Saturday, May 1, 2004

Night of the Living Fundamentalists

It was mid-March, and I was in grade twelve (twelfth grade, for any American visitors). I had been attending an Alliance church for most of that year, and would often have to take a bus or hitchhike (if I didn't have busfare) to get there.

On this particular night, it was cold and windy, and nobody seemed inclined to pick up a long-haired teenager with his thumb out. I was hoping to get to the evening service, but my watch alerted me to the reality that the service was just starting, and I was less than half-way there.

Then the rain started to fall.

Looking across Brant Street, I saw the tiny church building that had at one time been home to my parent's church. It was now a Baptist church -- "Miracle Baptist: the friendly church that cares!" the sign said. I reasoned to myself, "Baptists are Christians. Why don't I just drop in there for tonight, since I'm late for the Alliance and I'm nowhere near it anyway?" So I did.

WARNING: Culture shock ahead.

The interior of the church looked pretty much like I remembered it, but the people all looked like they'd parachuted in from early 1970's polyester world. The guys all had brylcreamed hairstyles straight out of the 50's, and they all seemed to have that wild-eyed, slightly inbred look.

It was hell-fire and brimstone night, complete with songs that threatened damnation for all, and a sermon that would have smoked just about anybody. Pretty intense. After the service, at the door, the pastor shook hands with everybody as they left. When my turn came (small doorway, I couldn't really sneak past and make a break for it), the pastor caught my hand in a death-grip, and asked my name.

When I told him, he continued to grasp my hand like some sort of ecclesiastical pit bull, and said, "Robby, are you SAAAY-ved?"

My brain translated: "He's asking if you're a follower of Jesus." So I replied, "Yes."

"Oh, but Robby," he said, continuing to crush my increasingly-numb hand, "are you REALLY SAY-ved?" (Interesting how he always got two syllables out of the word "saved" each time...)

"As opposed to what? Being partially saved?" I asked, bewildered.

He sighed. "I'll be blunt, Robby. No real Christian man has long hair. You have long hair. So, Biblically speaking, you're not a Christian. But you could become one tonight, if you're willing."

In the earnestness of his plea, he forgot to concentrate on crushing my hand, and I was able to pry it away from him. I don't remember what I said to him, but somehow I managed to escape.

As I started to walk home, I saw again the sign on the outside of the building: "Miracle Baptist: the friendly church that cares!"

Suddenly, the cold, the wind, and the rain didn't seem all that bad.

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