On Sunday Easter April 20, 2014, I reaffirmed my faith in God, and that his son Jesus died for me, so I would be forgiven for my sins and poor choices. It wasn’t an easy choice, yet it was very easy. It only took me 50 years to get to this point.
I was born on October 25, 1949, the 1st child and son of William and Ila Hamilton. I was the 1st of 5 boys and one girl. Warren, my third brother died of what was termed “crib death” before he had a chance.
As a child I remember the “church” being a very important part of our growing family, I remember having cloths that I only wore on Sundays for church. I remember before Easter each year we kids would always get a new outfit for Easter Sunday service. I remember going en mass to church each Sunday. I also remember going to Sunday school, I remember going to Sunday evening services, and I remember going to Wednesday evening services. Also if there were a youth sponsored event, you can count on the Hamilton’s kids being there. If the church had a gathering the family attended in mass, and there were no excuses.
This practice of church attendance started before I had memories of such things. But I know I was a regular in Church in: Baltimore MD, Easton MD, Reynoldsville PA, Norwalk CT, York PA, Dover PA, Shelbyville KY, and of course Grandpa’s in Waynesburg KY. I was baptized into the Southern Baptist Church, in a creek not far from the Pilot Baptist Church (before my 10th birthday).
The Southern Baptist Church was the only religious organization I was even remotely aware of until I was 15 years old or so. Going to a Sunday church service was Hell on earth. The preacher stood at the pulpit and screamed and pointed his finger at you and told you all the reasons you were going to hell, his voice carried for miles, his rant was always the same. Each Sunday he picked out your sin and screamed at you until he was blue in the face. The message was always the same, you are going to hell, and you’re going for this reason or that, and the only way you could get to heaven was through the church, and it was a message about being at and in the church so your fellow brothers and sisters could see you for the Christian you were, that without the protection and guidance of the church you were on a direct course to hell. But by attending church at each opportunity you would be graced with access to God and Heaven. The message when on still ranting that while Jesus may have died for our sins, he only did so for those that came to church to prove they were worthy. This was the message that I received from every service until I was about 14. To this day I don’t ever remember hearing a preacher speak (during this phase of my life) in a quiet tone, speaking of God’s love and the joy one receives from that love. The pulpit was a place where anger and wrath, a place where condemnation was spewed. At this point in my life I was tired of the church, tired of hearing what an evil person I was, and tired of the formula for being saved. But I couldn’t do anything about it because it was a family event. Dad taught Sunday School (or so I have been told). Being at church was a requirement not an act of Joy.
But it all came to a stop when we moved to Louisville KY. I do remember the 1st couple of months of going in mass, but the Church wasn’t convenient to our home, and soon as a family we stopped attending. I am sure there were other factors involved, but for me to even speculate would be pure fiction on my part. But I remember the great relief I felt, no more screaming, no more blame, no more belittling, that was a pure Joy. In my mind I knew there had to be a gentler God, that Jesus was a kind soul that lifted your spirit. But I thanked God for putting the family in a position were going to Church was not convenient.
Our house in Louisville was located about 150 yards from active railroad tracks. For the next 2 years, whenever I needed alone time I would go walk the tracks. During these walks I would get my head straight, I would sort out what I needed to sort, and I would pray. I prayed for family and friends, I prayed for good results on upcoming tests (those never came thru until I learned to study), having recently being quite ill prayed that didn’t happen again anytime soon (that one was answered), and I just spoke to God and Jesus, addressing each or both depending on the conversation. Sometimes these conversations were in my head, but usually I spoke out loud in a conversational voice. It was a comfort to speak to Jesus.
During these walks I watched a new Baptist Church being built right on the other side of the tracks from where I lived, and that I could access the Church by existing pathways, and it was no more than 7 or 8 easy minutes away by foot. One summertime afternoon I got the courage up to visit that Church. I was ready to become an active member of a Church. This place was new and fresh, my memories of the sermons I heard were not as pressing as they had been a couple years earlier, and I really wanted to join a group of fellow Christians. I walked into the Church and followed the signs to the Pastor’s office. I gently knocked on his open door, and asked to speak to him. He smile, bid me to enter, introduced himself and asked all the appropriate questions about me. We were all smiley faced. Then he said where do you go to church now. I told him that I had not actively gone to church in 2 years, but that I had spent that time talking to God and Jesus right there on those tracks behind his church. And like every other Baptist Preacher I had or remembered hearing he when right into the spiel that as a Baptist you needed to be at church every week, you needed to be seen there, and you needed those in attendance to witness your love of God and Jesus. I looked at him and said something like “no sir, I disagree; I believe God and Jesus listen to me as I walked the tracks.” His face got red, his voice got louder, and it was like being back in the country. His finger pointing and screaming just exploded. I got up and walked from his office with him screaming at me as I did. I left the church, and I walked away from the church for the next 50 years.
While I was away I visited a variety of churches and listened to a variety of sermons. None really set with me. Sometimes it was the rituals, sometimes it was the message, but mostly it was the people in the church. As Forrest would say “Stupid is as Stupid does.” I have seen a lot of hypocrites at the churches I have visited over the years, and these were all reasons which in my mind justified my feelings. That I believed strongly in God and Jesus, but I didn’t believe or trust the church to have my soul’s best interest at heart.
But this started to change about 5 years ago, my wife had joined the First Presbyterian Church of Brandon Florida. Kicking and screaming she got me to attend more than just the Christmas and Easter services. I had the opportunity to listen to the Pastor Rebecca and the Associate Pastor Tim. They preached of a caring loving God that didn’t find fault, who didn’t activity seek out fault in his followers, and his son who is nothing but Love and Kindness. There was never a raised voice, always a warm smile. And from where I sat it was genuine. They did care. Over the next 5 years I believe I have met about 100 different people, actually closer to 200, and to a one, they are what I have always expected a Christian family to be. The message preached each Sunday is of a loving caring God, the scriptures are to the point and make you think and feel. Rebecca has moved on to preach at a church closer to her children and grandchildren, and First Presbyterian has an interim Pastor Lucian, whose message is similar and as powerful as Rebecca or Tim. These three have delivered the message without screaming, or pointing fingers, or blaming the fellowship of the Church. They along with the members of the church have made me feel the way I thought I should feel at church. My belief in God and his Son has never wavered. This church made me feel I belonged not only to the Lord but to the church.
I had decided to join the Church before I found out my end of retirement date had been pushed forward. At first I was hesitant to join because I didn’t want to appear to be the Church going hypocrite I had seen all too many times during my search. But I overcame that because of the folks that make up this Church, and I knew in my heart, it was where I belonged. April 20, 2014 I stood before the congregation and reaffirmed my faith.
As always thank you for taking the time to read my post, if you have any questions, concerns or comments please feel free to ask, I will answer. Take care, Bill