We cycled through children’s pastors not too quickly but enough to notice. Children’s pastors resided over elementary aged children. Youth pastors were for middle school and high school. One children’s pastor was this young blonde woman named pastor Hailey who loved leading worship with a keyboard, that she wasn’t very good at playing. She would mess up quite a bit while trying to play songs. It seemed like every leader, or the person that they assigned to lead worship loved the attention. I had no desire to be on the worship team until my teens, but it seemed to me that in this little world, they got to be stars. Even if they weren’t particularly talented.
A memory that stands out in my mind is one Sunday, we were in the middle of worship, and Pastor Hailey was stumbling along through the songs. The song ended and she announced the next one. I said aloud “oh no” feeling embarrassed for her due to her clunky performance. I was in the front row, she heard me and got right up in my face, lowered the mic and scolded me. She said something along the lines of “That is not okay, or that wasn’t very nice.” But her tone was dripping with condescension and attitude. I had never seen her talk to any other child that way, let alone stop what she was doing to boldly make such a point in front of everyone. I didn’t think that what I said was even remotely rude, maybe just unnecessary to voice aloud. She didn’t even know the context of what I said. That was one of the many moments that I felt singled out, or that the adults around me didn’t see me in the same way as the other children.
After Pastor Hailey was Pastor Jim. I was not happy about this transition. As soon as he came in, he was all testosterone and high energy. He came in like it was a game show getting the boys all riled up, yelling and slapping high fives. The difference was stark. Gone was the calm and safe environment. Now, I perceived we had someone that would be more inclined to cater to and side with the boys.
Pastor Jim was in his early twenties. I later learned that he was crushing on one of the teenagers in the church. Kelly. She was one of the teen leaders that volunteered in kids church. The leaders would help run games, worship, do skits, run the little prize store, etc. (The store didn’t last long and I’m pretty sure I’m the reason they dismantled it, but that’s a story for another time.) She was blonde and pretty, just like a lot of the other girls there. Matter of fact, so many of the teen girls and adult women died their hair bright blonde, including the senior pastor’s wife, that I found myself wondering what everyone would look like if a magic spell was cast, ridding all women of their dye jobs. What was the psychology behind the blonde hair? Did they feel more confident? And did the confidence come from the notion that blonde was a more attractive color? And did women believe that, because attractive blondes are mentioned, praised, and highlighted so often in TV and media? Where was that for me? What could be my blonde hair?
I was a very inquisitive child.
Getting back to the point. When I was older, I realized how inappropriate it was that this adult man had feelings for a teenage girl, and it was no secret. The senior pastor knew. One year at kids camp I remember hearing a rumor that Jim either liked or was dating Kelly. I pressed people for more information because to me these were juicy details. She was a teen for goodness sakes. That one tidbit was all I got tho. When the Jim and his crush were older (and she was of age) and possibly married already, (I attended the wedding, it was not fun) senior pastor Dan reminisced about pastor Jim crushing on Kelly like it was a funny joke. He mentioned how Jim would wear new sweaters and cologne to the church office to try and impress Kelly. Of course Dan mentioned that he’s 13 years older than his wife, a fact that he had shared with the congregation on more than one occasion. I don’t know why, but large age differences were an amusing subject to the church. The pastor’s son Tim also developed a crush on a 15 year old when he was in his early twenties. She was a friend of my older sister. Little Ally. She was short, very pretty, with shiny dark brown hair cut just under her chin and hazel catlike eyes. She always did the top half of her hair in this poof sitting on top of her head like in Jersey shore, as that was the style everyone rocked at the time. I tried it a few times myself. It took a while to get it right. Though she was really good friends with my sister, I was always uneasy around her. Later I realized it was a matter of personal space. Every time she came up to me to say hi, she would stand really close to me and grab my upper arm and stare straight into my soul. The proximity threw me off. Ally knew Tim was in love with her. It was obvious. Everyone knew. He wanted to marry her. I remember Tim’s younger brother Wayne complaining about his brother’s infatuation. He didn’t think it was appropriate and his brother should move on. I was relieved to hear a voice of reason, especially from a male.
Pastor Jim and his wife Kelly became the youth pastors. Woopdeedoodledoo. They were young, and real chummy with the pastors kids and their friends. I have a theory. They must have come from the megachurch too. When Dan started his own church, he was followed by other mega-members and they were hired for leadership roles. It must feel nice to go from a massive collective to a smaller setting where you become more “important.” Jim and Kelly got married in this megachurch. I remember walking in there and thinking, where the hell do they (the church) get the money for all this? The building was gargantuan and reminded me of a professional theatre. At christmas time, it was a Yuletide extravaganza. I knew all those decorations were expensive. But I suppose when you have thousands of attendees, you can afford extra stuff like elaborate decorations and a prop christmas tree several stories high that can hold an entire choir in its branches. It’s all for Jesus right?
I remember the youth pastor putting together a special trip for my grade to go to Six Flags Marine World (as it was called before it became discovery kingdom), my favorite place on Earth. At that time, there were three of us in the youth group in my grade. Though I don’t remember specifically what time this was, I believe it was the 6th grade. The plan was for everyone to meet at the elementary school parking lot where we met for Sunday services. So me and my mom pull up and guess who’s there? The other two sixth graders, Mo, and Huston. AND the pastor’s kids, AND every damn teenage youth leader. I was mad as hell. If you advertise a trip to be for sixth graders, and there aren’t that many of us, I expect a small intimate trip where the focus can be on us doing what we want. I was also hoping it would give us sixth graders a chance to get closer as well, since I didn’t hang out much wither either of them. Pastor Jim deciding to cart the older kids on our trip, WITHOUT TELLING US, communicated a few things to me. 1) We didn’t matter 2) The trip wasn’t really for us 3) It was an excuse for Jim and his teenage friends to go to six flags and have fun with each other. I could understand bringing one or two leaders, but to bring a whole group was infuriating.
There was one particular guy, Zeek, who was such a tool. He was developed for a teen, meaning he had height and muscle, and believed that he was hot shit. It was in the way he walked, the way he talked, and the way he ignored or talked down to other people. The details of the trip escape me, but I do remember one thing. The group was moving through the park and I saw the outdoor saltwater pool where they have the little stingrays you can touch. I went over to look in the water and I hear Zeek yell at me to keep up and to get over there with the group, in a tone that adults that can’t stand children use when trying to wrangle them in. It was supposed to by my trip, and I did not have the freedom to go where I wanted and look at what I wanted. They controlled what we did, and it was our job to keep up with them. It was also on this trip that I cried while in the line for the medusa because I had never been an a coaster with such a big drop. I survived it.
Fast forward a bit to when I was in the position to be a teen leader in kids church. I often volunteered with my best friend Jo. The children’s pastor was a young black man named Dre. He was friendly, and goofed around a lot. I liked talking to him. He was best friends with pastor Jim, but I didn’t hold it against him. One of the things he did that I loved, was putting together music videos and showing them to the kids during their service. He would meet with a group of the teen leaders and they would act out a song, or make up their own words to a popular song. It was great quality and super entertaining. I remember in particular when the used the instrumental of the song Blow the Whistle by Too Short. But instead of the popular lyrics “blow the whistle”, they adapted it to say “read the bible”. I thought it was genius. Guess who was never selected to participate in these videos? Me. It made no sense to me. I was practically a founding member of the church and it was no secret that I was a dancer, singer, and a theatre kid. Heck, I invited the children’s pastors to my school performances all the time. Dre, and the pastors before him, did not ask me to participate in these cinematic projects. One Sunday, Jo and I decided that we were just going to ask Dre to be a part of the videos. He smiled and said yes we could be a part of them and he would let us know about the next one. Never happened.
Dre was black, but I never felt that cultural connection with him. I feel like he accepted and acted like the token black friend. One Sunday in big church, Dre was up on stage talking and he made a joke about Michael Jackson’s skin color. It went something along the lines of “…that was back before Michael Jackson was white.” Insert eye roll. To make it worse, there was maybe a half of a nanosecond before the mostly white congregation BURSTED into laughter. Now, people tell jokes all the time up on stage, but I knew this was different. I could sense it. The congregation never laughed that hard, or that quickly about anything. But a race joke was the joke to end all jokes. And the Black guy said it! Which gave them all a golden ticket to laugh it up. I was disappointed in him. You don’t have to tell tacky Michael Jackson race jokes to connect to a white audience. From them on, I made a point to not laugh or crack a smile if I was not amused. No more laughing along with the church for the speakers benefit if they said something stupid.
Did I mention that I didn’t like people much? Granted I had a lot of interactions that supported this stance. My family used to joke that I didn’t like anybody. I really didn’t, save for a few friends. Why would I? People were fake, or mean, or careless. And they definitely weren’t looking out for me.