(RNS) — The Baptist church I attended with my family as a girl in The Middle of Nowhere, Maine, was a one-room affair. The old clapboard building had no running water and — until we raised enough funds for an addition — no bathroom but the outhouse at the back corner. An old hitching post rose from the ground next to the granite front steps, a reminder of congregants long ago who once traveled on horseback to worship.
A tiny vestibule opened into an airy sanctuary, filled to the brim with three sections of white wooden pews. Two side aisles led to the platform where the altar stood sentinel in front of a rustic maple Communion table.
As a young girl, I spent many a Sunday service fretting about being married in that church someday. Every wedding I’d ever read about or watched on television depicted the bride walking gracefully down a middle aisle, straight toward the altar, pews on either side evenly surrounding her like the parted waves of the Red Sea.
How could I get married in a church with no middle aisle? This was my inordinate worry.
Our pastor, Vern, was a big man. His presence flowed off the platform all the way down to the front pews where I sat with my family. When Vern led the hymns with his deep, baritone voice, the floor would rumble as he stood firmly on one foot and stamped the other in time, especially so when we sang his favorite song, “I’ve Got a Mansion”:
I’m satisfied with just a cottage below A little silver and a little gold. But in that city where the ransomed will shine, I want a gold one that’s silver lined!
When we would get to the last round of the chorus, repeating it several times, I could see sometimes his eyes glistened with tears as he pumped his foot even harder:
I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop In that bright land where we’ll never grow old. And some day yonder we will never more wander, But walk on streets that are purest gold!
Does this all ring nostalgic? Perhaps so. But I paint this picture — not out of some Thomas Kinkade kink — but rather in an attempt to explain why I’m still here. Still in the church. Still part of the bride — even if the reality of life in the church hasn’t quite met up to my youthful idealism.
Far from it, in fact.
Consider, for example, the countless instances of sexual abuse and cover-ups by pastors that have taken place, not only across denominations, but particularly in my own Southern Baptist Convention. Numerous church leaders have been removed because of “moral failings” — and even more should have been.
This is not merely headline news: I was deeply and personally devastated to invest decades of my life in a Christian institution only to discover it was led by a man leading a double life of sexual perversion and self-dealing.