The 50’s are a decade that was all about conformity. And conformity is all about appearances. Nothing symbolized that better that my family’s attitude toward and participation in religion.
We were a devout, Christian, church member, believer sort of family. Except for one thing. Nobody ever went to church. There was no praying or other rituals in our house and we had none of the accoutrements like a Virgin Mary birdbath or mantelpiece manger.
I remember when I was very young, probably pre-school, we would go to a sunrise service on Garrett Mountain in Paterson on Easter Sunday. That’s sounds pretty cool, though primarily as a photo op. There may also have been some family churchgoing very early on in the decade on Christmas and Palm Sunday as well.
Other than that church attending was limited to me being sent off to Sunday School once a week. The one-hour Sunday session didn’t seen too bad compared to what many of my Catholic friends were being put through. But I recall very little of what we were taught. We did go over Martin Luther, even though we were Methodists not Lutherans, and I think John Wesley was brought up as well, even though we were not Wesleyans. (Apparently there was no one named Method among the founding fathers of Protestantism.) In other words the lessons were about how the Christian church was broken up into different sects by the various individuals who took issue with how it was being managed.
My only other church-going memory was going to an Episcopalian church with a friend’s family after a Saturday night sleepover at his house. At some point in the service they kneeled. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. My first thought was that Episcopalians were a lot shorter than Methodists. I sat on the edge of the pew and arched my back so I was roughly at the same level as everyone else.
(While writing this post I searched Yahoo! for Episcopalian to check my spelling and I got a spam email inviting me to meet Episcopalian singles online. Brilliant marketing!)
The Sunday school gig culminated with a graduation of sort. A confirmation, which I believe is some sort of coming of age, become a church member type of event. I stood up in front of the church with a bunch of other kids, went through most of the ceremony, then fainted, fell to the floor and passed out cold. It is the only time in my life I have ever fainted.
From there my presence in a church, temple or other house of worship has been limited to family gathering occasions like weddings, funerals or bar mitzvahs.