Major Life Influence #1: Being Raised Christadelphian
This is the first in a 5-part series of my major life influences. Of course having EEC is a big influence, but since this whole blog is pretty much dedicated to that, I figured I’d choose 5 other things to talk about.
The first major influence on my life (aside from being born with EEC, of course) was the religion and associated culture that I was raised in. The group was called the Christadelphians. The name means Brethren in Christ. We also referred to it as The Truth.
My parents, their parents and their grandparents before them had all been born and raised in Christadelphian families. It was more a part of our identity than our Scottish or English heritage. It was the default setting on our religion meter.
Being a Christadelphian was a good thing during my young life. My first friends were the ones I made at Sunday School. We had a community of people whom we trusted and cared about and that gave me a real sense of security and belonging.
Whenever I was recovering from surgery, I got tons of get-well cards from all over. Some were from people I didn’t even know, but who knew my parents or my grandparents or had heard through a Sunday morning announcement that I’d had surgery. We were all family in Christ.
Every Sunday we would go to Meeting, which was what we called our Sunday morning service. Sometimes there would be a luncheon and an afternoon program, called a lecture. These were supposed to be preaching or recruiting efforts but we almost never had visitors who weren’t Christadelphian. On Saturdays before lectures, we would go campaigning, which involved walking around apartment complexes and sticking flyers announcing the upcoming lecture into people’s mail slots. Flyers we had stayed up late folding the night before. I really didn’t like campaigning because I was always afraid I would have to actually talk to someone.
I did enjoy the long Sundays though, because it meant I could spend more time with my Sunday School friends. I was too young to be made to sit still and listen to the speaker, so instead I got to sit on the floor and play with toys and when I got older I was allowed to sit and read books quietly. We also had Wednesday night bible class and Thursday afternoon Sisters’ class, which was for the ladies only.
The highlight of each year was bible school. There were multiple bible schools held throughout the summer but we were loyal to the one nearest to us. It was held at Shippensburg University every July. It was basically a week of playtime with friends I only got to see once or twice a year.
There were drawbacks to being Christadelphian. I wasn’t allowed to be in Brownies or Girl Scouts, though I was never exactly sure why. I was taught not to recite the pledge of allegiance at school because my allegiance should be to God only. I couldn’t participate in any sports or extra-curricular activities because it would have conflicted with our worship schedule.
Because of these religious limitations, plus the fact that EEC made me look different, I often felt like an outsider. I was a little afraid to make friends with people at school because they weren’t my religion and I guess I sort of thought they weren’t as special as me.
My early teenage years were especially lonely at school. I really believed that I had been chosen by God and that my classmates were all hopelessly lost sinners. I made absolutely no effort to make friends with anyone. I didn’t even consider trying. In hindsight, I was a total snob! I realize that now but at the time I really felt like I was the persecuted one having to expose myself to the vulgarities of high school. I literally couldn’t deal.
I spent my time after school drawing, writing letters to my friends from bible school, practicing hymns on the piano and doing bible marking. I actually hated bible marking – it consisted of highlighting passages and writing a series of notes in the margins of my bible. All of it was just copied from a packet that you could buy through the mail. It was supposed to help us understand prophecies and be a guide when we went out preaching, which was an idea I dreaded. I just wanted it to look like I was a good bible scholar, with colorful pages and microscopic handwritten notes everywhere.
Growing up as a Christadelphian child, you anticipated getting baptized once you were old enough. Being ready for baptism meant that you had reached spiritual maturity and understood the principles of the Christadelphian faith. When I was 14, my friend Jay announced he was going to prepare for baptism. He was almost a year younger than me! I suddenly felt that I must hurry up and get baptized too. I told my parents I was ready, even though I really was just doing what I thought was expected of me. We immediately began preparing, with a series of study guides and classes. Just like with bible marking, I was quite bored but I wanted to do the right thing, so I pushed forward
I got baptized on September 3, 1995, barely 15 years old. I was nervous and excited that morning. I knew deep down that I’d never really had a deep spiritual experience, even though I really wanted to. I hoped that being baptized would change all that. As I let myself be pushed beneath the water, I anticipated the magic that would happen. I would rise from the water a changed woman! I would be washed of my sins, pure as snow, and I would start my life anew. When I emerged from the water, I opened my eyes and saw the entire congregation giving me their full attention. I was suddenly embarrassed and began to giggle like a little girl. I didn’t feel special or changed at all. I felt the same as I ever did. Confused, unsure and unworthy. It was a special day, of course. Gram gave me a beautiful lace head covering. My friends were there with me. Everyone was nice and paid extra attention to me. But nothing inside me changed.
For a long time, I would have said that growing up Christadelphian was similar to growing up with EEC in the sense that I could not imagine life without it. But eventually, I would get to experience life without it. I’ll write about that in the Losing My Religion post.
Now that so many years have passed and my emotions have cooled, I can see both the positive and negative aspects of life in a Christadelphian family. I am grateful for the experience of growing up and feeling a part of something so special, even if I would later turn and run from it. I’m glad I got to go to summer bible schools, and learn about the bible inside and out. It comes in handy sometimes. I had a lot of happy times and I have a lot of happy memories from my young life. I got to meet a lot of people as a Christadelphian that I might not have met otherwise. Some of these people I am still friends with today.
Growing up this way made me an odd mix of mature and ridiculously naïve. I could always read at an advanced level, thanks to the King James Bible being part of my early reading lessons. I think it gave me a good foundation for becoming a good and kind person. I was quite sheltered from a lot of the harsh realities of the world, which was good, but of course I would end up learning about these things eventually.
The negative aspects were that I grew up with a bit of a superior attitude, having always been told that we had THE TRUTH, and that everyone else was foolish for not figuring it out like our forefathers had. There was a constant need to try to prove everyone else wrong, rather than genuinely listening and considering other views.
Growing up so sheltered meant that once I did finally reach adulthood, I had a bit of catching up to do. I learned some lessons the hard way. I had to learn to stand up for myself and to take action with my life, rather than just accepting everything that came to me as being “God’s will.”
I’m not saying my experience is the same for all former Christadelphians. This is just my recollection of life as one. It really wasn’t terrible, just kind of odd once I look back at it.
All that being said, it was definitely a huge part of who I was as a child and young adult. Feel free to ask me questions if you want to know more. There is plenty of content on the internet about Christadelphians if you’re interested in knowing more about what they actually believe.