CHURCH – Marilyn Armstrong

When we came to this Valley, I had no experience with churches, except for having been married in one.  Garry had enough to make up for both of us. We chose a church because a very serious Christian friend of mine loved it and I loved her.

Between our coming to the valley in 2000 and now, the Pastor who I like very much was driven out because he liked to talk about what was going on in the great big world but the elders wanted him to follow the old traditional format and leave reality at the door because reality didn’t belong in a church.

Pushing out that Pastor was a big mistake. Half the church decided to form a new church and that reduced the church congregation by at least a third.

Having ditched a smart (and often funny) Pastor, they decided the way to attract “young people” was to play modern music. Ditch the music many of us knew and loved. We hated it. It wasn’t even bad folk music. It was just bad. The guitarists and bongo drummers were even worse.

Springtime on the Commons

Meanwhile, they couldn’t find a new minister, so they brought in a retired minister to temporarily serve the church. He did so for about five years, but he was getting pretty old. He became a good friend. My friend, another Marilyn (she was Marilyn Baker and I was Marilyn Armstrong, so we were Marilyns A and B) was also getting on and her husband, who was a doctor, developed the symptoms for Gehrig’s Disease.

Their children, in the name of caring for the old folks decided they should move to where they lived.  This meant moving them out of the home they loved, the neighborhood they had both grown up in, and separating them from all their friends. I understand why kids do it, but it’s a bad idea. You uproot us from the places we love and the few remaining people for whom we care and we drift away. And often die.

Both Marilyn and John slipped away. First, Marilyn died. I was heart-broken. Then her husband died. The minister we cared for died. I had heart surgery and I didn’t want to go to church. I had gone because I loved Marilyn and every time we came, she was so happy to see us.

She was so intelligent, had traveled the world. We had intelligent conversations that lasted until wherever we had brunch was getting ready to serve supper. Now, with Marilyn gone and having been so sick, I couldn’t bear having everybody asking me “How are you” and knowing they didn’t want an answer. All they wanted was to see a bright smile and hear me say,  “I’m just fine, thank you.”

No one, at church or elsewhere — other than family and best friends — really wanted to hear how you actually are. They want you to be happy and prove that a bright smile was the same as feeling fine. It isn’t.

Then came the endless battles to find a minister who would stay long enough to get the church to settle down and the nonstop quarreling between ministers who wanted the job and those to whom we offered the job who never stayed. The other pastors who were rejected, were angry and left the church. It was exhausting.

Goodwin Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1910

The Elders finally budged on whether or not the minister was allowed to say anything real. It was 10 years too late for me. Garry wouldn’t go without me, even though he is the actual Christian.

I didn’t want to go. All I could see were where my friends used to sit and how empty the pews seemed. The church congregation is gradually getting older,  I just want my friends back.

Categories: Blackstone Valley, faith, Marilyn Armstrong, Photography, Religion

Tags: , , ,

13 replies

  1. Pastors come and pastors go, but friends are forever… they never leave our hearts and minds!


  2. I have always found churches, and religion, in general, hard to swallow. The first flaw in churches is people. People are weak and flawed themselves, starting with the clergymen. What right does a pastor, reverend, father, monsignor, bishop, or pope to tell anyone how to live when most of them don’t know the first thing about living.., and especially Catholic clergy. Secondly all churches claim to be speaking on behalf of God and Jesus, both of whom supposedly teach the philosophy of love.., yet all these religions practice “exclusivity” as if theirs is the only correct belief, and others be damned. If it’s true, that God is everywhere, then I have little need to find Him/Her in a building among a bigoted, narrow-minded, opinionated crowds. God if He, or She, exists,,, will see me no matter where I am. AMEN!


  3. Church or religion can be tricky. It sounds like you walked a trial of fire and understandably turned your back on the whole thing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that spirituality and faith are something different altogether from religion or church. The first two are things the individual has or does not have and they are highly personal. The second is religion – a thought or thoughts that someone had, who got other people to think too, and so forth. A ‘church’ is merely a building. Which got mixed up with religion and became a thing one belonged to, rather than a structure. My faith and spirituality have always been really strong. My affiliation with a particular religion or ‘church’ has not. Those latter two wax and wane and right now (well before it was forbidden to go to ‘church’ at all) my own belief in going to ‘church’ had waned. Badly. I guess I think too much to be a good member of my particular flavor of church (Mormonism or that incredibly long name we call ourselves now). I happen to strongly believe that practicing what (presumably) Jesus did in my own life means a great deal more than showing up of a Sunday, dressed in suitable clothes and pretending to be pious for two hours. God knows the difference. Your own ‘church’ sounds like it’s had bad times and faithless people trying to lead. That seems to be a futile exercise, because how can one lead with faith if one doesn’t have any faith to start with or their faith is fractured? I hope YOU (Marilyn) find the situation that provides you with the peace and comfort that church ought to bring to people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It got very political. It was like the church had become a power structure and the purpose of going was to show your power in your community. A lot of people resented it, although often not for particularly good reasons. They were just as divisive and political as the people they resented. In the end, I was demoralized but what I saw. There were very few Christians. I didn’t think churches could be that way.


  4. You seem to have had dodgy experiences with church. So sorry. I wasn’t going to any church for a while until my friend Peggy Lennon(of the original Lennon Sisters) asked me to go to church with her, and I’ve been doing that for the past three years. It’s called The Little Brown Church and is in my town, Studio City. It is small, seating about sixty people, and our congregation is usually about twenty-five or so every Sunday. It is also where Ronald Reagan and Nancy were married. It is open 24 hours a day, and during its 80 years of existence has never been vandalized. The Pastor gives great sermons, always injecting humor. Our congregation, consisting of many people in show business, is loving and open, and we share our problems and pray for one another. Now, our pastor gives Sunday sermons on line. I miss being with Peggy on Sundays as we usually have breakfast together after the service. I think this virus is going to linger for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Too many churches have become businesses. They aren’t called business, but they are. Sure there is a social side to church and that is one of it’s purposes, to bring people who share a faith together. I always thnk of the movie with Cary Grant and David Niven where Niven is the Bishop and trying to build a church, but seems to have forgotten faith in the process.


  5. It’s often the people that make the difference….


  6. Reblogged this on natshouseblog and commented:
    “…the elders wanted him to follow the old traditional format and leave reality at the door because reality didn’t belong in a church.” Nailed my youth in half a sentence. Spent Sunday, often Saturday and usually Thursday night at some church function. She was a wonderful organist and perhaps more unique, she was fluent in Latin and cold nail the priests when they tried their Latin B.S. to silence somebody. I didn’t realize she was paid to be there until years later her death. I thought she was a devout woman. The point is, she used to run afoul of many traditional priests because she always wanted to introduce contemporary music (Puff The Magic Dragon period) and that would lead to her acid comments about women and the church.


    • The congregation, for the most part, WANTED reality. The young ones couldn’t listen to the same standard sermons all year round. No one liked the music. I think they didn’t like it because it was bad music and no one knew the words. So they started telling people to bring iPads and they’d send the words a day or two ahead of the service. We didn’t have an iPad. Then they installed ATMs at the back of the church. From not allowing a minister to talk about “life in the real world” to installing ATMs? There was no joy in it. It was just a way of showing how righteous you felt you were.


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