The Lighter Side of
the Worldwide Church of God
By John B.
Over the past couple of years I have written a great deal about my years in Worldwide Church of God, most of it negative. Anyone reading my articles might think I was a terribly negative person, but I really don't think I am (although I probably was a lot more negative when I was "in"). To balance the scales, I thought I might share a few of the happier moments that I experienced during those years. After all, even Hell probably has a shade tree or two.
I do have some good memories left over from Worldwide Church of God. I was an only child, my parents were dirt poor, and we migrated to California from the Arkansas Ozarks when I was just two years old. My dad was a farmer and worked at farm labor (or some variation of it) his entire life. Consequently, we never had much. I've heard that the Fifties were a prosperous time in America, but I was not aware of it at the time. As I said, we were dirt poor, living in houses that should have been (and occasionally were) condemned, living from paycheck to paycheck, and barely getting by. If there had been another child in the family, we would have gone hungry.
The point of this is that we never went anywhere, aside from an occasional trip back to Arkansas to visit the relatives (four times that I can remember). We had no money to travel anywhere else or see any sights. So when I got to go to Squaw Valley in 1963 for the FOT, it was a BIG deal. I don't know where my mother got the money (Dad was not in the church at that time), but we did go. We didn't do anything there, but we went, and I was fascinated by Olympic Village, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics (whatever they were - I had no idea at the time), and the snow and the crowds and the festive atmosphere. I loved it.
Over the years I missed a number of FOTs, but when I did go it was always exciting. Different places - Squaw Valley and Long Beach when I was young, and later Tucson and Palm Springs (we won't talk about Fresno and Sacramento, though my kids did enjoy Sacto). When I was grown and working, I actually was able to spend a few dollars on some activities, and I always looked forward to the FOT. Right up to the year I quit, I still enjoyed going.
I also enjoyed Spokesman Club, believe it or not. I joined when I was seventeen, the first teenager ever admitted to the Fresno club. I was terrified, of course, but the men were mostly supportive and I did okay. Years later, after having left and returned to the church, I started all over again, graduated, and continued attending for several more years. I served as president of both the Spokesman and Graduate clubs, and never regretted it. There were some bad moments when certain asshole ministers were in charge, but I was a good speaker (mostly because I was good at organizing my material) and I didn't suffer too much. Fortunately for me (unlike many of you), I lived only thirty or forty miles from where the club was held, so I didn't have to drive all night to get home.
One of the more meaningless activities in club came at the very beginning, when some poor sap had to lead in "vocal exercises". These were usually tongue-twisters right out of the book, and everyone had to yell them in unison. It was usually a farce, but never so much as the night Mr. Kruzer stepped forward and told everyone we were going to do "Peter Pecker". He turned the color of a fire engine and everyone laughed until tears came out their eyes. I can only imagine poor Mr. Kruzer telling himself beforehand, "Don't say Peter Pecker! Don't say Peter Pecker!" And then he said it.
I still remember the first time we had attack speeches. It was a daunting assignment, and several of the men couldn't do it. I was still seventeen, and laughed my ass off when some of these beaten down guys tried to "attack" something. (Al Dennis was our director at the time, and he was tough on these guys. He accused them of "retreating" rather than attacking. I thought that was a hoot at the time.) We had a deacon named D.R. Sandoval, who later became a full-time minister and was probably the worst minister in history (besides being a complete asshole - D.R., if you're lurking around reading this, I'm still looking to spit in your face some day!). But D.R. did attack. He attacked so hard that he beat the top off the podium. It starting breaking loose in the middle while he was pounding on it and he started pounding the other side to even it out. I kept waiting for it to flip completely off onto the floor, but it never did. Every time it was about to go, D.R. would switch sides and keep on pounding. I was laughing so hard I couldn't see straight.
I enjoyed the baseball games. I was never a very good player, but I loved the game, and I was unable to go out for the teams at school, so the summer picnics were all I had. We had two or three a year and sometimes a tournament on holy day weekends.
One of those tournaments was in Oakland in the late Sixties. We had put together a team from the Fresno and Modesto churches and we faced one of the Bay Area teams (don't remember which one). Our pitcher was a big Norwegian with a powerful arm (we were playing hardball -none of that sissy softball under Al Dennis!), but after two innings he was getting shelled. Al Dennis wanted that game and he wanted it bad (no negative talk about "competition" in those days). But our pitcher was finished, and the game was young. We had another pitcher sitting on the bench, and Al Dennis had no choice but to call him in.
His name was Mike Booze (he's a Worldwide Church of God minister today, sad to say -in those days he was a great kid), he was only sixteen, and he looked like anything but a champion pitcher. He walked out to the mound with his mouth hanging open, glasses halfway down his nose, slightly stooped at the shoulders, and weighing about fifty pounds. Immediately the bench jockeys went to work. "Hey! Here comes Fresno's BONUS BABY!!!" And so he was. Our games ran seven innings, we were in the third with none out, the bases were loaded. Mike took the mound and went to work. He faced fifteen batters -two of them flied out, one grounded out, and Mike struck out the rest. We lost the game, because two of the runners already on base managed to score (advanced by flies or ground-outs), but Mike allowed no hits, walked none, and gave up no earned runs. The other team was noticeably subdued even though they won. Al Dennis was fit to be tied, but it was his own goddamned fault -everyone had told him he should have started Mike in the first place, but no, he had to start the BIG guy!
I spent two years in Pasadena during the Vietnam war, working at AC part of that time; so much of that time was so miserable that it's difficult to pick out the bright moments, but they did exist. The singles always got together on Sunday morning at Cal Tech to play volleyball, and that was fun. Some of the dates were miserable, but not all of them. (I did have one humiliating date that was best forgotten, but I can laugh about it now - you can read about it on this website, under "Dating At Ambassador".) I met some good people in Pasadena to balance out the losers and jerks, but probably the best times I remember from those two years were the Dodger games I attended every time I could scrape together a couple of bucks. I saw some awesome baseball there, including Wilbur Stargell's home run, the first ever hit into the parking lot at Dodger Stadium (to my knowledge, it's only been done twice, and Stargell hit them both). My very first Dodger game was the night Don Drysdale set the scoreless inning record (56 1/3), breaking an earlier record set in the 1920s (by, I think, Walter Johnson). Drysdale's record stood for twenty years, until it was broken by Orel Hershiser in 1988.
My very best memories include my own kids. My boys were small during the Eighties and used to sit on the floor at church and play with their action figures. They were lost in George Lucas's world most of the time, but their ears were always open. It was amazing - now and again someone in a sermon or sermonette would refer to Luke Skywalker or the Ninja Turtles and their heads would come up, their eyes wide, and they looked around in wonder.
When my oldest boy was eleven or twelve, he was chosen to lead songs one Saturday during YOU weekend. He was nervous, but he did a good job of it. He opened up by saying, "Some of you say I look like my dad, and some say I look like my granddad. But I have something they don't have. . ." He paused dramatically, brushed a hand across his forehead, and said, "Hair."
It brought the house down.
He loves basketball, and I still remember the first time he scored a basket in a YES game. I have it on videotape.
There were always funny moments in church, when you aren't supposed to laugh. When my daughter was still an infant, one Saturday my wife had to take her out for a diaper change. The chairs were too close together and my wife had to get past me to reach the aisle. She was holding the baby, fighting for balance, and stepped on me - her spiked heel came down right in the center of my middle toe (NOT the big one!) and all her weight was on it. There she stood, unable to move because she started laughing so hard. I could feel that center toe start to curl up the wrong way and I was sure it was going to snap. I couldn't move and neither could she, for what seemed like forever - and I couldn't scream, either. She finally got her balance and moved on; we still laugh about that one.
After he retired, my dad started to attend. He and Mom were sitting directly in front of us one week and the boys wanted to sit with them. Halfway through the sermonette, my younger boy got to making too much noise with whatever toy he had, so my wife took it away from him. He turned around and stuck his hand out to get it back. She shook her head, but he didn't give up. He wanted it so bad he stretched his arm as far as he could and his fingers curled up, especially the middle one. It looked for the world like he was flipping her off (he wasn't), and we started cracking up. Couldn't help it, because we knew people behind us could see what he was doing, and the only escape was to laugh about it.
We had afternoon services. On Saturday mornings when the boys were little, my wife would get them dressed first and they would "play turtch" while we got ready. When my daughter was a little older she would join them, and they had a grand old time. One day my wife looked in on them in time to see my oldest giving the "sermon". "Satan was up in heaven and tried to take over from God!" he expounded, "but God kicked him out of heaven AND NOW HE'S DOWN HERE!!!" Who says it doesn't rub off on them?
Another time I happened to overhear the end of one of their "services". They were singing, then my younger boy said, "And now Luke Skywalker will say the closing prayer."
(Another great moment with my older son had nothing to do with church, but I'll tell it anyway. It was his very first day of kindergarten - he had afternoon class, and promptly at three o'clock he raised his hand. His teacher called on him. "I have to go home now," he said. "It's three o'clock, and I always watch Scooby Doo." Years later while in college he was working at the local Mervyn's; that teacher came in and saw him there, and told the story to all his coworkers. I was amazed she even remembered him.)
My younger son constantly amazed me - and still does. He's twenty-one now, but even when he was little he was a deep thinker. I took him with me to club one night for a father-son meeting. Halfway to Fresno I saw him staring out the car window. "Whatcha thinking about, Joe?" I asked him. And he said, "Oh. . . Just thinking how God can make a tree and he doesn't even need a seed." He was four years old at the time. I told that story later in a club meeting, but I don't think anyone believed me.
Along about 1988 I was getting the car ready for the FOT one afternoon. My daughter was then four, and she wanted to "help". I was trying to fix something on the radio and was up under the dash board, she was playing in the back seat. The sun was burning down and I was starting to sweat. "It's getting hot in here," I said. "We need to open a window." "I'll do it!" she said happily, and went to work on a rear window. I let her have it, but I kept hearing her grunt and groan and pant, and finally she said, "Oh, shit! I can't do it!"
We constantly tried to keep the boys from picking up bad language at school, but it was a losing battle. One Saturday we were just getting in the car to head off to church when the boys got in a fight. The older boy said "fuck" and I immediately told him to cut it out. "I don't want your sister to hear that word!" I told him. Whereupon the princess, who was strapped into her car seat, announced, "Don't tell Erin fuckit, 'kay?" I looked at my wife and she looked at me and we started to shake and quiver, covering our mouths to keep from showing it. No one answered, so my daughter repeated it. "Don't tell Erin fuckit, 'kay?" And she said it a third time, and finally I recovered enough to say, "Okay." And she stopped. But the boys had seen us laughing, and called us on it. "You're laughing!" the oldest one said, and I said, "No, we're crying."
In 1986 my daughter was only two, still in diapers (I think), and we went to FOT in Pasadena. This was Joe Tkach's premier year as Pastor General. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Rosemead, and one afternoon we hit a bookstore out that way to do some browsing. The boys were looking at picture books and my daughter was standing in the aisle looking at something. Both my wife and I were squatted down looking over titles on the shelf. Suddenly my baby girl began to break wind. I don't mean she just tooted, but she released a stream of gas that lasted all of fifteen seconds, getting louder as it continued, making a POP-POP-POP-POP sound as each little bubble exploded out of her. It sounded for all the world like a one-cylinder gasoline engine, one of those old motorcycles that you can hear coming from six blocks away. My wife burst out laughing and I just hid my face, hoping no one would know it was my kid. When my daughter heard my wife laughing, she began laughing, too. Loud, raucous, like a gravel-voice honky-tonk queen. HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH! And the gas was still coming out of her! I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe, and then someone, an employee a couple of aisles away, shouted, "Gross!" It wasn't until we were back in the car that I realized the guy thought it was me!
My wife is just a tiny bit dyslexic (so am I, for that matter), and it showed one year when she called to make our festival reservations. We had decided to rent a condo that year, but when she called to reserve one she told them we wanted a "condom".
Maybe I do have an evil side. I always love to see assholes get their comeuppance. A couple of events in our local church really tickled the snot out of me. One was back around 1967 or so, when a fistfight took place in the church parking lot. Five or six boys were involved, and though I wasn't there, I heard it was pretty brutal. What thrilled me about it was that every one of the boys was the son of a deacon or deaconess, and most of those were extremely critical of other people's child-rearing records. It seemed only fitting that they should discover that "kids will be kids" and they do have minds of their own, even (or especially) when you go to great lengths to beat it out of them.
One of our early deacons, who later became a local church elder, was a very nice man I'll call Pete. Pete was a farmer and a gentle soul, but his wife was one of the biggest snots in church. One of their daughters married and had a son. That son was a perfect little angel, quiet and well-behaved and a model child. Because of this stroke of luck, Pete, his wife, their daughter and son-in-law all found it very easy to criticize other people's children. My boys, for example, were very energetic and sometimes it was hard to keep them quiet or make them sit still. We were constantly under the righteous glowers of Pete and company.
And then along came Eric.
Eric was the second son of Pete's daughter. Eric was full of energy. Eric was restless. Eric was LOUD! I loved Eric.
I know there are more "happy" stories, but right now I can't think of them. Does anyone else have a "lighter side of the Worldwide Church of God" to report?
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