Of course a little kid doesn’t know what “pentacostal” means. I’m not sure my folks did, either, unless my mother was a closet Pentecostal and I just never knew it. To my knowledge, my father never entered a church, except for being dragged to a Christmas program by my mother when I was directing a choir many years later.
In the spring of 1941, we moved to Stanley Avenue in Long Beach. There, no more than two blocks away, was a big
During that time we were at an age where memorization was really quick and easy, and my scrapbook is rife with Gold Stars affixed to Certificates for memorizing the Books of the Bible, 23rd Psalm, Beatitudes, Ten Commandments, 121st Psalm, John 1:1-14, Salvation verses, the Where Finds, 100th Psalm, Easter Story, Great Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the names of the 12 disciples. No one could have had a better foundation than that – and aside from the more familiar prayers and psalms that everyone with a tinch of religious training remembers, to this day I can still reel off the Books of the Bible upon request. (This is not requested much!)
What I remember most about the church was not any loud praying – what we called whooping and hollering - that must have gone on, since that was a hallmark of Pentecostalism (knowing what I know now), but the flaming red capes that were worn by the women. Now it’s possible that they were dark blue or black on one side merely lined in bright red, but whatever, they were so dramatic that they have lodged themselves forever in my mind. I am certainly not an authority on the Foursquare denomination but I do not think that capes are worn today, although the few Foursquare churches I’ve attended as an adult have been closet congregations (going by a name that hides their Pentecostal roots, leaving one to wonder if the capes are hidden too.) I also don’t recall a lot about the founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, in spite of having read a wonderful book about her life a long time ago. But since she was rather flamboyantly dressed in her white garb, she also may also have worn a cape, albeit a white one.
Mother often listened to religious programs on the radio. Aimee Semple McPherson had her own program, followed by the Sunshine Mission Gospel program. I never thought to ask my mother what all this listening to religious programs was about, or even what she thought of religion in general. I wish I had. I never heard anyone in the family say that mother was either religious or a Pentecostal. My sis and I never joined the Foursquare Church, and although we attended regularly, we did not ever hear any speaking in tongues.
When we first moved to that second house there was a very wide vacant lot behind us that fronted onto Cherry Avenue. Across Cherry, facing the back of our house, was a tiny
Beginning sometime in Junior High School I began attending the old
Between 1963 and 1971 my first husband and I attended in sequence Alamitos Friends Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, Upland Nazarene Church, Westmoreland Chapel and finally The Salvation Army. It was after the breakup of my marriage that in an effort to regain my sanity and my stability I allowed myself to become involved with a Pentecostal experience again.
The Hippie movement, the Jesus People and the more formal charismatic movement all began about the same time. Main line churches did not want untidy Jesus People in them. They wanted their congregations to wear formal clothing, not tie-dyes and sandals. The drug culture had put a lot of lost souls out on the streets, and in all of Southern California only Chuck Smith, pastor of a small Foursquare Church in Costa Mesa, made much of an attempt to reach out to these needy young people. He brought them into the church, fed and clothed them, and ministered to them. What they wore to church did not matter to him. They responded in droves and were soundly converted. A whole new Christian musical idiom was born, generated by longhaired, strange-garbed young adults. The mainline churches were glad someone was doing what Jesus said to do; it relieved them of the burden to take the gospel to every living creature. Mostly they wanted to minister to clean and tidy people. Chuck Smith’s church became full to overflowing, and he pitched a big tent in a field in
This was the start of what was called the charismatic movement in
There were excesses, it is true, but as I experienced it (and I will say that it saved my life), this movement put people in touch with the emotional side of wanting to express their love of God and worshipping Him in an outward way, a concept entirely new to most people. The charismatic experience was a much more joyful expression of loving God than singing fossilized songs out of old hymnals. What I saw was that in the charismatic movement there were no denominations, no races, no doctrines, no divisions – nothing but brotherly love. Maybe they were a little weak in their theology and their teaching, but they did love God and tried their best to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. This experience with Pentecostalism at these small meetings was one more facet of my becoming put together again after my divorce. For a time, neither the tongues nor the teachings daunted me. However, eventually a more buttoned-up reasoning prevailed and I moved back out of those groups, but believing myself enriched by knowing the pleasure and power of truly praising God.
Although I tried my best to find a place where I could respect the teaching of the church and still share my talents, I ultimately moved out of religious circles entirely. My beliefs finally shifted to where I now call myself an “agnostic”…merely holding in abeyance my judgment on religious things. It is true, though, that I have a real soft spot in my heart for things Pentecostal. My theory is “You can take the girl out of Pentecostalism but you can’t take Pentecostalism out of the girl.” In spite of not now a practicing anything, I can’t help but smile over the role that these vibrant house meetings played in my life.
NOTE: The photo above is Sister Recknagle's class from the First Foursquare Church in Long Beach, 10th and Junipero. Yours truly is second from the right. Picture take about 1945.