A couple of months ago I befriended someone from my Church days on Facebook that I haven’t had contact with for about 30 years. I noticed his wife openly made references to things like “divine light,” “Jesus saves us,” and posted pictures of Jesus figures and wore a necklace with a cross. OMG I thought, this is not the style of the man I knew back then, not how we were taught and grew up!
And so last night out of the blue I googled WCG, and today I am walking around feeling a bit strange like something in my life has changed.
I was born in 1963 directly into the World Wide Church of God with both parents attending services weekly in Sydney NSW Australia. I remember playing on a rug on the floor with my dolls and Etch-A-Sketch, quietly during the service which lasted from 2 hours sometimes up to 4 hours. I remember the Feast of Tabernacles in Blackheath (Snowy Mountains area) which attracted hundreds of people and we ate communal style, with lots of food on long tables.
In 1969 my Dad passed away and my Mum moved us back to West Australia to be closer to her family, but we still travelled over East every year to attend the Feast. The Church was growing everywhere in Australia and soon Perth had such numbers that it progressed from one meeting in City Beach, to a North and a South congregation. I fondly remember the YOU program, summer camps at Binningup Beach, and playing basketball every Sunday in Belmont.
I grew up not knowing I had a birthday until a playfriend asked me how old I was and I had no idea. I had to ask Mum — I was 7, but she didn’t tell me the date. We did not observe Christmas or Easter, Boxing Day or New Years. I never ate prawns or bacon, the “cloven hoof” and “scales” thing. I never sought friendships outside of the Church, and socially only ever interacted with my peers and older people in the circle of the Church. I was healed with an anointed cloth and oil by a Minister on many occasions, and also blessed when I was about 6 years old. I didn’t like observing The Day of Atonement because of the whole day fasting, or Unleavened Bread, having to clean the whole house, school bags, cupboards, garden and car – everything – to make sure there were no yeast products at our address. My school friends thought I was weird; I was segregated from Religious classes and did not participate in any Easter or Christmas activities. No shopping, work or sport and recreation were allowed on the Saturday Sabbath. No smoking, no alcohol, no modern pop music, no hot cars, no radical hobbies — just everything understated and “normal.”
In 1979 when everyone realised the World didn’t end, we were all told not to wear makeup, nail polish or use hair dye. I was not allowed to go on a date by myself with a boy, because that would send out the message that maybe sex was involved. Having sex before marriage was against all principles and I think some people were made to leave the church because of this. It was all about how other people saw you. Divorce was against all laws and just didn’t happen — put up or shut up I think.
My goal in life as a teenager was to be good enough to make it to the “Place of Safety” when the world ended and for entry into the “Promised Land.” I recall as if it was yesterday, sitting on the bus on the way to work looking around me at all the passengers, thinking how sad it was that they were all going to die and how I was so much better than them. I was 18.
When I was 20 years old I met my husband, a non-church person, and was stopped from going to Church because my parents notified the minister. I was barred from going to any Church activities, from seeing any Church people, speaking to any Church people even on the phone, taken off all YOU responsibilities and could no longer participate in any sport programs. My Mum and Stepfather scorned me and were devastated and ashamed of my choices.
And so I left home, deeply in love with my new mate, totally alone with no friends no family— nothing. I left it all behind: the price I paid. My parents, by choice, did not attend our wedding because to them it was wrong in the eyes of the Church and they could not support me as my choice would make for a bad life. Now in 2015, I am still happily married and more deeply in love than ever. We have 3 beautiful, well-adjusted daughters and also a grandson.
I grew up believing (blindly knowing) that all the people in WCG older than me must have my respect because they obeyed the Church 100%. I trusted everyone, and it never occurred to me to question anything that anyone older than me did. About 10 years after leaving the Church I met some people from Church, people that had been individually happily married with young families. She was a Minister’s daughter and he was a quietly spoken businessman. And here they were this day 10 years later, arm in arm, smiling and laughing, saying hello to me like nothing was out of order. How dare they!!!??? I have never been so speechless and dumbfounded. I walked away unable to speak to them, and to this day cannot process that moment and that situation.
In about 1992 my husband, our daughters and I were on holiday in our South West. We stopped in a small town called Dardannup. Regional WCG members met here in a small hall for services every fortnight and we called in to say hello to my Aunty and Uncle whom we hadn’t seen for a long while. With respect I approached the hall entrance on my own to ensure that they weren’t in the middle of a sermon. I was met at the door all in a hurry by a man I know very well (I have holidayed with that family on their farm in Donnybrook many a time). He stood on the step and closed the door behind him, raised his arm and pointed away saying “I don’t know you, you and your family are not welcome here. If you don’t go I will get other people to help me remove you”. Gobsmacked, confused, betrayed, sad and angry, it made me feel so much less of a human being. Some things take a long time to forget.
Over time I have learned that so many of the generation next older than me have basically lived life to look good on the outside, but done otherwise in private— been unfaithful in marriage, gotten divorced, married from another race, my own Mother now eats bacon, the Church has splintered into so many groups I have no idea, it’s all confusing. Which is exactly that — the Church is all confused.
Today I am not a religious person, but I still believe God is there watching. When I really need to, I pray because I know He will hear. When I met my husband I participated in my first Christmas — that was in 1984. I also eat Easter Bunnies and do enjoy getting a present or two on my Birthday.
So last night after I read about WCG and how it has remodelled itself to be Grace Communion International, I feel strange, like I’ve been let down somehow, again. So most everything I was taught by the Church as a child is now a lie. I know I chose to leave the Church and have become my own person, but the foundations of my youth are actually not credible any more, to anyone. Does this mean I’ve been excused from leaving the Church?
It’s like the family that I was born with, that disowned me and that I left behind, has now changed its mind after not wanting to know about me for over 30 years, and now would like to pretend it’s all OK— I can come back if I want to.
I’m fine where I am now, I am able to leave the past in the past and know that whatever teachings of the Church are still with me today, must be the good bits.