A Former Faith Tabernacle UPC Woman Shares

At the age of around 5, I began attending a United Pentecostal Church in Kansas called Faith Tabernacle. I loved going to church. I remember as a little girl, singing and praying. Hands and face up to the heavens. What a peaceful feeling when you are an innocent child and are praising God. Everything feels blessed and that's how I remember feeling when I first began attending church.

But something happens as you grow older. I don't know if it was maturity or a natural curiosity, but in my early teens, I needed to understand what I was told. I needed to process the rules based on scripture, to understand how to be a good Christian. That apparently was frowned upon. I just needed to do what I was told, not ask questions. Have faith and follow.

The rules - it seems every youth meeting, new rules were introduced. Of course, I always had to wear a dress, but the clothing requirements were always changing. I remember my early teens, when I was told I had to start wearing a full slip and panty hose. No tight fitting clothing, everything had to be loose so as not to cause men to lust after you.

Lust... what a peculiar word for a young woman to hear and think she is doing something that is causing a man to sin. You are to be covered up from neck to middle calf, no elbows showing, no knees showing, no neck bone showing. No cutting hair. Hair is for your glory and for a woman's covering... but when you turn 13, you have to wear your hair up on your head. To me, that was defeating the purpose. If it was for your covering, why would you put it on your head? I was instructed to not ask questions, just obey. That's all you need to do. Pray and obey.

No worldliness... which meant, if it wasn't church related, you couldn't do it. No friends outside of the church. In school I had nicknames. I was called a holy roller or a bible thumper and my nick name was Laura Ingalls. Most of the school kids only really teased me when I was in PE and yes, I had to wear a long skirt and a long sleeved shirt to PE. The preacher wrote a letter addressed to my school informing them of my religious beliefs to not wear provocative clothing or do any exercise or activity that would cause me to expose any part of my body, or position my body in an un-holy way. So basically I sat on the bleachers and had to read about the activity my schoolmates were doing. I think I ran around the gym and did jumping jacks. Everything else was not an accepted activity.

No TV, no radio, no movies, no music unless religious. No school activities, no sports, no makeup, no dating outside the church, no dating until your 16 and then only when approved by the preacher. There was no casual dating. You dated to marry.

As I continued to get older, I began trying to really understand the doctrine. There were some things that I just didn't understand. I gladly followed any rule, when I understood it. Example - do not kill, lie or fornicate. OK that's easy - understandable.

I remember a not married couple attended the church, they were inter-racial. Once they became members, they had to end their relationship. I didn't understand that one. I searched the bible and couldn't find anything that said a black man cannot date a white woman. So I asked... and I was told it's in the scripture and for example, a cat does not mate with a dog. I remember responding that those are different species and we are all the same species. It quickly turned on me as who was I attracted to or lusting after. I was told to stop asking questions, I am not to doubt the man of God, I was to obey. I was afraid of our pastor, I was truly fearful of the man leading our church.

When I was about 15 - I fell for this young man - my first crush, we talked to each other every night after church, he would give me cards and write me letters and leave them in my bible. They were appropriate, religious sentiments, nothing outside of the 'rules.' We talked for about a year and then it all fell apart. One late night, my parents got a call that he was stabbed to death and they were shipping his body back to his family. I was devastated, cried myself to sleep every night. I missed him and I didn't understand why God would take him. I prayed and asked the preachers wife why and she would just tell me I needed to get that boy out of my head.

One year at summer bible camp, when I was about 16, I had gotten to the church early and there wasn't anybody in the women's prayer area but me. I remember I was knelt down praying and I heard someone walk in the church. I could hear my preacher talking to someone and then I heard the door close again. I could hear foot steps but I just shrugged it off and continued praying.

A few minutes later I could hear the footsteps entering the prayer area and I peeked and saw the preacher entering. I got nervous, scared, my heart was pounding in my chest. I continued praying a little louder so he could hear me. I didn't stop to look up at him. I just kept my head down. He stood there. I don't know what he was doing, he never spoke a word and I didn't open my eyes to see. He stayed for a little bit, and then he walked off. My heart was beating so fast. As soon as I knew he was gone, I left the church as fast as I could and went back to the cafeteria area for some water. I don't remember ever feeling so fearful of someone in the same room with me. Just the worst uneasy feeling I ever had.

I slowly began to question everything. I watched as people in the church, even members of my own family, were tormented for their mistakes. Ridiculed, preached against, and called in after church for a "one-on-one meeting" with the preacher. People kicked out of the church for making mistakes. I watched as members turned on other members, gossip, spying for the preacher, telling on other members. I really began to listen to the sermons. How mean they had become. Where was the love, the compassion? Why did it seem he was always angry preaching? Screaming and hollering, pointing out the flaws of the people and making everyone so fearful.

I don't know what event triggered it, maybe it was the past 13 years compiled, all I knew is that I didn't belong. I slowly started not showing up for church, and over several months, I stopped going all together.

Once I quit, the feelings I had are very hard to explain. It's like a form of mourning a lost loved one or a going through a divorce - I loved my church family I just could not be part of it anymore. It was sad as I knew most I would never talk to again. But I had to get away from the control and the fear of it all.

The last time I saw our preacher I had just turned 17. I was a senior in high school. I had to have surgery and I was in my hospital room, resting. I heard the door to my room open. I could see a tall shadow against the wall and I knew who it was, the preacher.

As he walked to my bed, he grabbed the curtain that provided privacy to each patient. As he walked closer to me, he pulled that curtain closed behind him. He didn't say a word as he walked around to the side of the bed and just kept looking at me, no smile, just that angry stare. Once he stopped, he leaned over me, put his hands on each side of my head and bent down over me. His chest above my chest, he whispered in my ear, "Don't stay out too much longer."

He stood up and started walking out, opening the curtain as he left my room. I was honestly petrified, I started pushing the nurse call button and she came in and I asked her to call my mother. Why would a "man of God" intimidate me like that? He should have asked how I was, said a prayer for my recovery, instead he comes in and intimidates me. That moment any doubt I may have had about leaving the church was gone.

I had an unexplainable freedom. I can only describe it as a kid in a candy store with a blank check. Freedom to wear what I wanted to wear, talk to whomever I wanted to talk, live however I wanted to live. My options were limitless.

I had just started my senior year of high school. I remember when I decided to cut my hair; I hadn't cut it since I was about 4 years old. It was long, past my lower back. I cut about 12 inches off and layered it all up. I then went and bought my first pair of jeans and a short sleeved shirt. I never wore jeans before, and they felt really weird.

When I returned to school nobody knew who I was... I shocked everybody. The girl that nobody really looked at was now the center of attention. It was a freedom I can't explain. The kids that I had grown up with in the church refused to associate with me. Some would say hi and smile at me, but there was no talking to me. The adults, they just preached to me and told me I was going to hell... the typical "backslider" hell, fire and brimstone sermon.

After I graduated high school and I moved out on my own, I had no limits and no restraints. No church to control me and no parents to guide and/or punish for me things I did wrong. When you have your life dictated on how you are to be and feel, and then you don't, I think there is an inability to process what really is right from wrong. I mean, I knew the basics, I wasn't going to kill anybody - but other than the basic 10 commandments, was anything else really a sin?

I began partying with my new worldly friends, drinking, dancing, listening to current music, going to movies, playing video games.. whatever I could do, I did. Honestly from when I turned 18 to about 25 - I made up for everything I was not allowed to do as a child and I mean everything. Looking back I wonder why I'm still here. I always say I should have gone into therapy to slowly begin the transformation of having your every move controlled to having total control of your life. It probably would have been less "wild."

In August of 2012, things had been happening in my old church that hit the news and internet. I won't go into any of that, but none of it surprises me. I have been able to reconnect with many former members and we shared stories.

The most shocking thing was when I got an email from my first crush, the one that was "stabbed"... he was never stabbed and is very much alive, living 3 hours from me. In discussing our stories he had been told by the pastor to leave me alone. He had to leave town to take care of family and when he called the pastor to tell him he was on his way back the pastor told him he was not allowed back in the church. This all happened about the same time I was told he was dead. What a cruel thing they did to me. I sat in shock... I just do not understand why someone would do that to a little girl. Then I realized it was his way of controlling me.

Growing up Pentecostal and then walking away, I learned that the control they had on me had left emotional scars that I still live with today. I left my church in 1983 - now 29 years later, I still have issues that I never really understood. I have not attended church since I left. I tried a couple times, but I do not trust preachers and I can't handle church politics. I don't like being judged and do not tell me how to dress.

I don't understand religion. Why is one church so strict and another so free? Why does one religion preach against another? Aren't we all just servants of God? If a person claims to be a Christian and sins, is he a hypocrite? Does he lose his Holy Spirit, is he going to hell? Will he be forgiven? Or can a person be a Christian and sin and acknowledge it to God and continue their own personal relationship with the Lord? Lots of questions.... no answers.

I love my God and I pray to God for healing. I know what is right and what is wrong. No one should have so much control over you that you can't make your own decisions based on your own beliefs. God gave you a conscience for a reason. I have learned that everyone has to follow their own religious path and we cannot judge others or allow others to judge us for our decision to leave the Pentecostal movement. I don't believe you have to have a preacher to beat you down spiritually and emotionally to lift you up. I don't have the answers, but I do know that what I went through - is not the way.

Former Faith Tabernacle Member

Other articles from former members of Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church are available. Mary's experience may be read here. Elizabeth Smith's experience may be read here. Also available are videos from a former Faith Tabernacle member.


Posted September 17, 2012

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