Sunday, July 7, 2013


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 Foursquare Gospel Church where the foundations of our Christian learning took place.  I don’t remember exactly  what year my sis and I started attending, but I do remember that even after we moved to a different house about 2 miles away in 1945 our dad drove us back to that church each Sunday morning and picked us up afterwards so we could attend Sunday School and quite often, Church services.

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 Full-Gospel Church.  Whatever we might have missed hearing at the Foursquare Church was more than made up by the congregants at the Full-Gospel Church.  “Holy Rollers,” our folks called them, and although Sunday mornings were fairly quiet, on Sunday evening and again on Wednesday evening, the stops were pulled out on the organ and the good times began.  The music and singing got louder and louder and finally would end up as real whooping and hollering, praising and shouting, with male voices exhorting believers to praise God.  It was a very dramatic event and all of us children would gather in our backyard on Sunday evenings to hear the Holy Rollers.  If our old Foursquare Gospel Church did that, it must have been at the Sunday evening church service, because I certainly have no recollection of it in the morning services and I’m sure I would have remembered.

Beginning sometime in Junior High School I began attending the old Bethany Baptist Church of my childhood with my friend “Ro” and her family.  That lasted until just before my senior year in high school, when I quit church altogether.  At the time I entered Pepperdine College it was a Church of Christ College and we were required to attend Chapel each Monday, but I wasn’t interested so I basically was unchurched until sometime after I got married.

 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 South Santa Ana and preached the Gospel to anyone who would come.  People came in droves, heard the Good News and were saved.  His singing groups spread over California and ministered in music. 

This was the start of what was called the charismatic movement in Southern California, beginning in a small Pentecostal church which encouraged speaking in tongues and which spread into mainline churches of every denomination, including Catholic. People in the mainline denominations sometimes went to a small house meeting with a friend and suddenly "caught the fire" themselves.  When they tried to talk to people in their own church about it, they were all but forced out by the traditionalists.  The dividing issue was the speaking in tongues, which, according to the Pentecostals was a gift of the Holy Spirit, available to anyone.  Most of the mainline churches didn’t know what the Holy Spirit was, never having seen it or felt it in all their years of churchgoing. Those who had been touched by the charismatic movement wanted to share this “fire” with everyone. 
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.

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