I was a Teenage Church Lady

I grew up in the Lutheran church – not literally in the church, of course. Although many Sunday mornings, as I sat through yet another browbeating by the man in the long white robes, watching as my young life ebb away, it felt like I’d been squirming in the pew for an entire lifetime.

Lutherans are an extremely dour bunch. There are no uplifting hymns for Lutherans. They’re all dirges. Even the Christmas hymns have been modified to the key of D flat to remove all festive nuances.  Lutherans believe babies are born sinful and if they die before they get baptized they’ll go to hell. Lutherans believe anyone who isn’t Lutheran (and a regular church-going Lutheran at that) will go to hell.

My mother keeps telling my daughter how sad she is that she won’t be seeing her in heaven since poor XUP Jr. has never been baptized.  My mother is hard-core Lutheran. She is unshakeable in her beliefs in what the church tells her. It is because of her that we were all dragged to church every Sunday morning.

The parents would go to the German service while the kids went to Sunday School and then after Sunday School the whole lot of us would go to the English service. And we’d sit there for an hour or so while the guy in the white robes enumerated all the ways we’d angered God that week and that being sorry wasn’t enough and that showing up in church wasn’t enough and that trying to be a good person wasn’t enough. Our only salvation was faith.

(When I was very young I used to surreptitiously take a peek around to see if I could spot this mysterious Faith who would save me from eternal hellfire and damnation. I reckoned maybe she was Jesus’ wife since they were often mentioned together.)

At age 14, Lutheran boys and girls are confirmed and receive their first communion. Before any of this can happen, however, we had to attend two years of indoctrination Bible study class every Saturday morning for three hours.

My Saturday morning class consisted of nine boys and me. It was the tradition that every Sunday one person in the class got a turn helping the guy in the white robe through the service – lighting the candles, dusting off the communion wine and so forth.

At age 12, it was a pretty excited thing. Aside from breaking up the general scariness and boringness of the church service itself, I was also quite into the whole ritual and awesome God thing at the time. So I was keen to step up and take this important role in the proceedings.

Week after week I waited anxiously wondering how they were scrolling through the class. Alphabetically? No, that wasn’t it. By how well we did in class the day before? No, that wasn’t it because I was working my ass off and some of the slackers were getting a turn before me. Then one Sunday, I noticed one of the guys was on his second turn.

“HEY, white-robed guy,” I said after the service. “I think there’s been a mistake because I haven’t had my turn yet and buddy here has had two turns now.”

I was frowned at. After everyone in the congregation had left, the white-robed guy took me aside and explained that I wasn’t allowed to have a turn because I was a girl and that girls weren’t allowed on the altar because we were unclean.

I was horrified. Did I smell? I asked him what that meant – unclean. In an awkward, roundabout way he managed to convey that it was because females are cursed by God with the stain of monthly sin because of Eve’s original transgression. How embarrassing.

I complained to my parents the whole way home, but they agreed with the church’s position. At least my mum did. My dad thought it was all nonsense, but went along with whatever my mum said because on the subject of Lutheranism (and that subject alone) my mum ruled the roost.

So, I wrote a very sternly worded letter outlining reasons why this was unfair and wrong and pointing out that church women were the ones who cleaned the freakin’ altar every Saturday afternoon so why were they allowed on there then, but I wasn’t allowed on Sundays? And if the altar was that freakin’ sacred why didn’t the men have to clean it. (I didn’t use the word “freakin’” though).  I gave the letter to my dad to take to the church’s next board of trustees meeting asking them to reverse this “unclean” thing.

I got a formal letter back saying, “no”. I never attended that church again. It was a huge battle with my mum every Sunday morning, but I refused.

Now I sometimes go at Christmas to make my mum happy.


PS: I should probably point out that there are different faction and divisions of Lutheran churches and that not all of them are this harsh. Some of them even have female pastors now. My mother wouldn’t be caught dead in such a bastardization of the true Lutheran faith.