Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Honest to God, Part One

For my graduate degree, I completed and defended my thesis, Honest to God: Confessions of a Pastor's Wife, last spring. It's a weird thing to have 70+ pages of my life story just sitting around. So I've decided to post sections of it to my blog occasionally. I mainly want to show that even though I haven't identified with the Church of Christ--the faith group of my heritage and background--since 2006, my association with that particular church is still a big part of who I am today.

The Luckiest Kid Alive

I didn’t mean to become a minister’s wife.

Well, at one point, I must have given it brief consideration. When asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “A youth minister’s wife.” That’s what my mom was, and I didn’t know there was anything else to be. But honestly, I didn’t spend much time thinking about my future married life back then. I was too busy trying to process something fantastic that I had realized about my life.

Basically, I could not believe my luck.

As an 8-year-old, I was aware that the world contained people who were oppressed, starving, and dying of diseases I would never need to worry about. I knew I lived in a free country while other people suffered under the iron rule of Communism. I knew my church was the only church that was doing things right and that unsuspecting Methodists and Baptists were doomed to an eternity of torment. I knew that millions of people around the globe were living in the wrong countries and going to the wrong churches—if they went to church at all.

But, through some magnificent stroke of luck, I had it right on both counts. I had entered life in not only the best, strongest, and most prosperous nation in the world, I had been brought into the world by two members of the Church of Christ. And if I did everything right my entire life and never left that church, I would go to heaven. Just by being born, I had hit a celestial jackpot that would seal my prosperity in this life and eternal reward in the next. What were the chances?

My luck at having been born American didn’t boggle my mind nearly as much as the fact that, just by an astoundingly fortunate roll of the cosmic dice, I had arrived on earth as part of the true Christian church. I was born with automatic membership. Not salvation, though. Because the Church of Christ does not baptize infants, that would come later. But I would not have to find my way to the true church. I was already there. It was like entering a race just before the finish line. When I chose to cross it, my salvation would be a done deal.

The Church of Christ is a devout, passionate, autonomous, simplistic, paranoid, and quirky bunch that reports about 1.5 million adherents in the United States and U.S. territories (Royster). The Church of Christ is a product of the American Restoration Movement, which took place mostly in the 19th Century and was championed by a group of men who believed that church creeds divided Christians and that all believers should be united in Christ. Ironically, but predictably, the unity-seeking Restoration Movement ultimately produced three divided branches: The Disciples of Christ, Christian churches, and the Churches of Christ. While the names are similar, the differences are huge to the people who care.

Church of Christ people don’t think they’re being unimaginative when they name congregations after the streets the church buildings are on. They don’t think it’s grammatically incorrect to lowercase the “c” in “church” in their congregations’ names on church letterhead. They are just showing that the only thing that matters about the names of their churches is the name of Christ. They don’t think they are being unreasonable by forbidding their teenagers to go to prom, or by pulling their kids out of the square-dancing segment of P.E. class. They just devoutly believe that dancing is a sin. If you see church youth group members wearing jeans on the beach in the dead of summer, there’s a good chance they are Church of Christ kids.

I’ve worn jeans on the beach in the dead of summer. I’ve also never been to a prom. My childhood church resume includes several street-named congregations: Third and Central Church of Christ, 14th and Main Church of Christ, and Taylor Street Church of Christ. My family, at least four generations’ worth, is rooted in the Churches of Christ, the branch of the Restoration Movement that was united with the Christian Church until a dispute over the use of instrumental music in worship caused a split. The Church of Christ folks left organs and pianos behind and set up shop as an independent, a cappella group in 1906. I didn’t come along until 1971, but the church ban on musical instruments in worship was still going strong. I was not exposed to instrumental accompaniment in church worship until I visited my boyfriend’s Baptist church in high school, and thinking I was standing up for my faith, sat in silence as the rest of the church sang with the band.

My family were not merely members of what we called simply “The Church.” We were leaders. My grandfather W.J. Hamby made his living as an accountant, but he was a volunteer preacher and elder (the highest rank in Church of Christ leadership) as long as I can remember. He helped start churches and then preached for them until they could afford to hire clergy of their own. His wife, my grandmother Annie Hamby, taught what was called “Ladies’ Class,” a class taught by women, for women. (Traditionally, women are not permitted to teach men in the Church of Christ.) My father, Winston Hamby, started out in banking, but ended up in Church of Christ ministry for 20 years. My mother, Mardell Hamby, taught children’s Bible classes, chaperoned church youth group trips, and eventually became principal of a Church-of-Christ elementary school. And my husband Chad, halfway through a Ph.D in genetics, came home one day in 1996 and said, “I think I want to be a minister.”

To be continued...


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