Sunday, March 6, 2011

Southern Baptist Churches and Boot Camp
Somehow I Will Weave It Together--Stick With Me

From my earliest memories up until my Sophomore year in high school my Mom and I attended a Southern Baptist church. We lived across from the church when we lived in Billings and my cousin Jeff and I would ride our bikes in their parking lot and wondering, even at our very young ages, what a Southern Baptist church was doing in Central Montana. Even at my early age I couldn't seem to reconcile all they held sacred with what I knew to be right. When we moved to Park City we found the one and only Southern Baptist church in an 8 mile radius and began attending its 3 weekly services and giving to the Lottie Moon fund.

Pastor Willis was the pastor of the rigid little church filled with men who prayed for too long; not because they liked to be in communion with God but because they liked the sound of their own voices. There wasn't an ounce of grace to be found at Calvary Baptist Church and even when I found my way to Christ at age 11 I did so out of fear instead of adoration and worship. I wanted redemption not to be in fellowship with the Redeemer but because I had been scared out of my mind of hell. You could look deep inside its dark corners and lofty steeple but you wouldn't find anything that resembled grace. Not in the building and certainly not in Pastor Willis. It was shortly after he criticized my 30 year old mother's parenting for allowing me to try out for cheerleading that we left Calvary and never looked back.

Of course you all know that high school girls in short skirts who cheer for high school boys end up pregnant. My Mom, who had ended up pregnant at 15 and had never once worn a cheerleading skirt found his philosophy (and theology) to be pious and self-righteous and off she went taking her single mother-single income 10% tithe (never more,never less...remember NO Grace, dammit) and Lottie Moon offering and politely told pastor Willis with his nagging voice of guilt and shame and his wall of doctrinal beliefs to kiss off.

We landed at a church not even 2 miles away from Calvary and as its name promised, grace abounded and Mom and I felt relief and weight removed.

Years later while in college I attended another Southern Baptist church one Sunday with an Inter-Varsity cronie. We sang all the familiar songs (all 6 verses of "Just As I Am") and at the end of the service after a typical hell, fire and brimstone sermon the Pastor gave the weekly alter call and like so many, many Sundays as a child I felt like I needed to walk the length of the aisle and beg for forgiveness not because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit but so he would stop asking the pianist to play "one more verse" and we could all get home to our crockpot lunches.

That afternoon I was decompressing with my Mom and I told her that despite my bitter memories and utter distaste for anything and everything to do with the Southern Baptist church I had oddly felt "at home". There was something proverbial about the hard-back hymnals, the shame filled message, the never ending alter call that was comforting and familiar deep in my soul. I have no way to explain this.

And so this long cathartic story brings me to Friday where I found myself at Boot Camp after a short, 2 week break. A footcation I call it. As I was getting my butt handed to me on a sweaty, weighted platter I thought back to that Sunday at Rimrock Baptist church and how I had loathed being there yet found it to be wonderful--every single gut wrenching minute of it.

My body tells me 'no' but I won't quite 'cause I want more filled the room and my heart beat to the rhythm of the song but the difference between this song and songs sung from "The Baptist Hymnal" was I didn't feel any guilt, no shame. I felt camaraderie with my fellow classmates whose legs were aching and lungs were burning. Tina, much to her credit and despite her tough outside demeanor, is filled with grace and she while she pushes you to your uttermost limit there is no shame, no embarrassment, when you modify a push up or walk the last lap of power skipping (aka as meth addicted Jan & Jill skipping).

And so there it was at Boot Camp on Friday morning that I began thinking of grace. And acceptance. And community. Every time, every.single.time, I go to Boot Camp I get acceptance and encouragement from my classmates who are all in far better shape than I am. Not even one time have I felt looked down upon as I stumble into class (always the last one) after laps. Never ever, ever have I been embarrassed or felt I was being judged while doing stairs and the first person in a line of 25 has caught up to me and is now slowed down because of my lagging, exhausted, barely moving legs.

God, as He so often does, confirmed my thoughts this weekend with Fowler's message (available on SAC's website in about a week) as he talked about coming along side people in their "journey of healing" and loving them rather than discouraging them.

I feel such gratitude for Tina and every single person in Boot Camp (ESPECIALLY Shannon, who will not give up on me even when I wish she would) who encourage me and hold me accountable. For whatever reason they have invested just a little bit of themselves in me as I am on my journey to wellness.

I can't help but wonder what community, acceptance and grace would have done for my young Mother as she sought Christ's love and forgiveness in church that didn't know how to share what it didn't have.


At The Picket Fence said...

I love you Jennifer Henderson! You take me from tears in my eyes, to laughter, to tears again and the more I get to know you the more I feel grateful that I found my way to your blog and to your wonderful, honest, forthcoming, often irreverant (love that!), and tender hearted self. Coming from an Assemblies of God background (early childhood) I can relate to a lot of what you shared and think that your mom showed so much wisdom and maturity in taking you away from that grace-less place.
Thank you for sharing this little piece of Jennifer history with us!

At The Picket Fence said...


Love you and your funny, honest, tender, grace-filled heart!


Anonymous said...

I am ready for more... I miss you... where are you, friend? Is everything okay?


Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I will forever be grateful that I went to Calvary Baptist with you to Youth Group and other services. Though I am non-denominational now (in a church that regularly preaches God's grace and mercy), I will be forever thankful for that afternoon after church in your Mom's car where she led me to the Lord!

Lisa Knutson said...

Jennifer, I will forever be grateful that I went to Calvary Baptist with you to Youth Group and other services. Though I am non-denominational now (in a church that regularly preaches God's grace and mercy), I will be forever thankful for that afternoon after church in your Mom's car where she led me to the Lord!

Anonymous said...

I am starting to worry about you... are you okay? I will call you this weekend. :) Love you!