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Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple IV: Church

After my parents got married, we started going to church. My father had attended a faith based seminar, where a dynamic speaker delivers bible truth one persuasive slide at a time. Dad was hooked, rapidly absorbing amazing facts and dragging my mother along to meetings. In the end, both decided to commit their lives to Jesus.

I remember watching my parents’ baptism from the front row, amazed a pool could hide under a pulpit. We celebrated starting over. My parents looked happy and I felt happy for them.

We became followers of Christ, pressing forward and forgetting what lay behind. Except I could not forget. I loved my old life, a tapestry of memories of feeling safe and loved. I missed my grandparents who had been tossed into the old life bin. We weren’t allowed to see each other anymore. Perhaps this was Jesus’ idea, I wasn’t sure. Sometimes I felt guilty for longing for the old, for being the only person cherishing what was over and done, beyond resurrection.

Our new weekly rhythm revolved around church. We never missed a week. God was serious about us and we seriously committed to showing up for Him. The church taught us what to think and how to live. We eagerly aligned our lives with truth as we understood it. Our hope centered around a future brighter than the reality and promise of communism. God’s kingdom was coming and He would be pleased to find faithful souls waiting for Him.

Our worship delighted in order and structure. One knew exactly what came next, when to rise, sit or kneel. A large pipe organ ruled as king over the instruments, forcefully pushing notes all the way to heaven. I actually loved the old organ, robust and dominant, commanding respect like the king himself. We sang out of hymnals, spiritual treasures stirring the soul in old fashioned german. I loved singing with the congregation.

Otherwise children were expected to be seen but not heard in church. I was quiet and naturally compliant, earning the praise of adults without great effort. Listening and absorbing bible facts and biblical narrative felt stimulating and enjoyable to me. I loved most Old Testament stories, angels and fires, signs and wonders. I wished I could be guided by a God-cloud that glowed in the dark.

It was trying to figure out where and how I fit in the story, desiring to experience God more personally. Once, at the beach, I built an altar of sand, partly longing for a more tangible expression of worship and partly relieved our prayers did not include dead animals. Another time I laid out a small blanket in one corner of my room, praying that if God was real he would make it wet like Gideon’s fleece by morning. God didn’t seem interested participating in my faith games. Perhaps he was busy unwinding, listening to organ music.

Experiencing God seemed secondary to knowing and understanding the right doctrines though. Our faith community was a small island of counter-cultural teaching, not actively opposing communism but standing firm for biblical truth. We were expected to know exactly where we stood and to defend our stance while Communism desired to push faith to the outermost margin. We were lights in the darkness, discerning flames, not wanting to burn the last narrow bridge of religious liberty. I tried hard to represent Jesus well, always aware people were watching.

It felt good to be on God’s team and people praised me for being a good girl. I felt sorry for God because most people didn’t even believe in him. And even those who did would make him sad by breaking his rules. I was determined to be different, a better than average believer, someone God could count on. I wasn’t perfect but I was pretty convinced had God given me a chance to obey in the garden, I wouldn’t have taken the fruit.

Turns out I did get a chance to be in the garden, a surprise encounter I may never forget. There was a small backyard behind our church and one day, I was probably 7 or 8, a few friends and I climbed over the two foot fence. We picked and ate a few strawberries before running off. That’s when angry church lady caught us red-handed. Everyone else managed to escape, leaving me for her lecture. I felt terrified discovering I was a thief, a bad girl who stole from God’s garden. What would my parents think of me if they found out? I begged her not to tell. I could not bear disappointing them, their daughter a thief and law breaker. I preferred hiding, drowning in guilt over having my family think less of me.

Church lady taught me I was bad, failing to mention a way to be good again. Perhaps the new life was for grown ups only.

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“Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple” is a series in which I am telling you my story of growing up Christian in East Germany. Part IV will continue next week. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox. As always I welcome your comments and questions. If you need to catch up,  read Part 1 here. and Part II: Divorce here.


2 Replies

  1. Ah… I see where you’re going here. The very fact that you’re describing a doctrinal “truth” (lowercase) and a harsh, fear-based religion, tells me you know the difference. I’m eagerly anticipating more of your story!

    1. Astrid Melton

      I better keep writing- so we can get to grace . Hope this post was not too gloomy- didn’t mean to leave you hanging…its work to tell the story well

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