Why I Quit Going to Meetings
My family’s involvement in the Fellowship began in the 1920s when both my father’s family and my mother’s family attended meetings conducted by the Workers in California. My paternal grandfather had already passed away, but my grandmother and my maternal grandparents made their respective choices to profess.
My father never did profess, but my mother eventually professed in the 1950s when I was a young girl and she was about 40 years old. I was taken to meetings by my mother. She believed that this was the “only true way” but living in a divided home was hard. She was a very humble woman and I believe she found it hard to trust fully in her salvation, especially since we were taught you could lose your salvation (if you indeed ever had it) at any moment. One of the scariest things I heard from other professing kids was “…even all the workers aren’t going to make it.” If it was thought that this would encourage me to ‘keep pressing on,’ it back-fired—it terrified me.
I honestly can’t recall a time when I didn’t believe in God. Thanks to my mother, I believed at a very young age. I used to look through her Bible as a young child trying to read bits from it. And I liked going to meeting as a child as I recall. I can recall looking out the window at night at the stars and thinking about God.
When I was 16 years old, I had the experience of attending three funerals within a two-week period. The first was for a 21-year-old neighbor killed in a car accident, another for an elderly man, and the last was for a 14-year-old professing girl who died suddenly from a blood clot. These events were troubling to me! I knew all three persons, and somehow became convinced that I was next. I confided my fears to my mother who encouraged me to read John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled…” But this failed to completely comfort me as I was not professing, and since I wasn’t professing the Lord’s comfort was not for me.
Convention was a month away and the workers were naturally gone at preps. What to do!!!??? I worried and worried. It never occurred to me to just pray to God and tell Him I was turning my life over to Him right at that moment; I believed I had to stand up at convention or gospel meeting to be accepted and be right with God; in other words, go through the Workers. To me, this is one of the most troubling aspects of this Fellowship—we must go through the Workers for salvation plus all the fear associated with this.
So at Gilroy convention the following month, I did stand up and felt somewhat better. I began to grow my hair longer, and didn’t wear pants nearly as often. I really didn’t wear makeup or jewelry before, so that wasn’t any temptation to me. Our meeting was filled with many nice people and I enjoyed them very much. There were a few “hard people” that I felt uncomfortable around, but no one is perfect as my mom often reminded me when I fretted.
I continued on, reading my Bible and attending meetings. Because I was in a divided home, I wasn’t asked very often to attend the young people’s gatherings in our city. I didn’t expect to be invited, as I couldn’t reciprocate invitations. I believe this way was the only way to serve God, although it was often hard to be ‘different’ from the other kids at school, and I wasn’t very close to the professing kids in our area. Remember, I was from a divided home and that makes you different from the majority of the Friends. I didn’t go to movie theatres or dances as I was afraid that something might happen to me if I attended those events. My father, who wasn’t professing, was very strict so that kept me from a lot of harmful influences, perhaps even more so than professing.
I wasn’t good about sharing my faith, perhaps because of embarrassment but even more so because I didn’t understand a lot. I had gotten down the “meeting in the home and the preachers without a home” but I frankly didn’t understand much else. I really enjoyed reading about Jesus in the New Testament, but often felt He was different than the one I heard about in gospel meetings. I was still often fearful but wasn’t sure why. I certainly didn’t have much joy but maybe that was my fault.
When I was 19 years old, I was told by my Elder’s wife that there was a baptism coming up and would I like to be baptized? I really loved our Elder and his wife, so I said sure. I met with the worker in our area and apparently I answered her questions properly. So I was baptized, even though I knew there was a lot wrong with my life professing-wise, but I thought I should do this.
A few months later, I attended a convention in Oregon with one of my professing aunts. One of the older workers, who was very stern, spoke at one of the evening meetings. He ranted and raved and shouted and kept talking about those who were supposedly professing, but “who weren’t actually born again!” He made it sound like there was no hope for any of these people, no place of repentance.
My conscience began bothering me and I wondered if I was truly born again. I prayed that night, but I began to be alarmed that I got baptized, but maybe I wasn’t born again!!! I thought perhaps this was the unpardonable sin. I spoke with one of my professing friends who hadn’t got baptized yet. She wasn’t any help when I confided in her that perhaps I got baptized before I really understood everything, but hopefully the Lord would forgive me. Her reply was, “Well, I hope so.” After that, I was really scared.
I tried to talk to my mom and she was as reassuring as best she could be. But I felt I was doomed! Meetings weren’t really helpful along those lines and reading my Bible became an ordeal as I felt there was no hope for me. Looking back at all this from 40+ years ago it seems a little surreal and maybe weird to those who aren’t naturally fearful, but I really felt guilty and scared and hopeless.
When I was 23 years old, I met the man who would become my husband. He was a dear man, raised a Catholic but no longer practicing, and we both fell in love. I told him about my religion and that I had to attend meetings no matter what. He attended meetings, wasn’t overly impressed, but said he would never hinder me which he never did. We got married, much to the consternation of the Friends. He attended meetings with me most of the time, although he didn’t agree with some of the things shared from the platform at convention. However, two years later he professed at Gilroy convention. He really liked the Friends and he felt he needed to do this for the sake of our marriage. He used to comment that the Fellowship had to originate at the turn of the twentieth century; boy did I attack him for that remark! (And it turns out it did!).
After he professed, I started to confide in him about my baptism concerns, and he tried to be reassuring as well. At this point I just felt I needed to continue on in this way, it probably wouldn’t get better, but I needed to continue on until death. A lot of the Friends didn’t seem happy anyway, so I guess this was how it was going to be. You need to go to meetings no matter what was the message I got. Perhaps we weren’t meant to be joyful. All I heard was that we need to press into the Kingdom. I interpreted this message as having an open home for the workers, but not really for my salvation.
We eventually got a Wednesday night meeting in our home which I took as a great sign as I believed a worker, who was perfect in my eyes, wouldn’t put a meeting in our home if I was beyond all hope! He would have certainly had the inside track with God!
When our long-awaited daughter was born 11 years after we were married, I was determined that I would raise her in a godly, professing manner. When I was discouraged, I just told myself ‘you need to hang on for her sake.’ During this time, we also had a Union Meeting assigned to us. Again I was pleased, but it is amazing how wearing having meetings in your home can be. If you didn’t feel well or there was an event at school or some calamity at home, you still needed to have meeting in your home no matter what. Still, I was determined to make the best of it and do the best I could.
I still wondered about joy and why it was missing from my life. We often heard the ‘gem’ that discouragement can’t grow in a thankful heart. I tried to be thankful as I did indeed have a lot to be thankful for and I knew it. Still real joy was missing.
One thing I did enjoy doing (secretly of course) was reading books written by Grace Livingston Hill. I really loved to read and I thought her books would be wholesome. Her books were written from a Christian point of view, and there was a lot to encourage one in her stories. I still remember reading in one of her books about a man who had just turned to the Lord after years of indifference and he was concerned that the Lord wouldn’t take him back. The heroine of the story assured him that “…he that cometh to Me (Jesus) I will in no wise cast out.” That was such an encouraging verse and I enjoyed reading it over and over again in my Bible!
I sometimes secretly wished that I could go to the churches that the heroes and heroines went to. The churches (though they were false, of course) just seemed so loving and inviting!
Raising our daughter presented many challenges, of course. I compromised on the issue of wearing pants to school by allowing her to wear leggings under her dresses and skirts. We didn’t have a TV, but we did purchase a very small VCR that we used for special occasions, educational opportunities and to watch home movies. Most of the time we didn’t have a Christmas tree, but I would buy her a small potted tree to have in her bedroom after I heard one of the hearty friends say she did this for her children. And I wouldn’t let her pierce her ears. But I was concerned that I was teaching her to sneak things.
One of my professing friends used to say to her children when she was hiding things that “…we don’t want to hurt the workers’ feelings.” I didn’t know about the hurt feelings, but felt rather that we would be chastised if these transgressions were discovered. One thing that still sticks in my mind as absurd is the time when my daughter’s second grade class was invited to a showing of “101 Dalmatians” at the local theatre. My daughter begged to go and I decided to ask one of my close professing friends what I should do. She told me to tell the teacher my daughter is sick, and keep her home that day. There is no way you would want her in a theatre! There are horrible people there and the atmosphere is terrible!
Well, I didn’t take her advice, and I let my daughter go; I also attended as a chaperone. What a fun day! The theatre was full of little kids and the movie was fun! I would probably have rented the movie later when it came out on video anyway. I didn’t see any horrible people attending that day. What is ironic is that this same friend sees nothing wrong with a bowling alley. Well, let me tell you I was helping out with my daughter’s 4H group one time when they went bowling. There were some pretty weird people near us, and there was smoking and drinking close by. And this was OK but a kid’s movie at the theatre with a bunch of kids was not?? It didn’t make sense. But I made sure my daughter didn’t tell anyone about our movie outing. It was our little secret.
A few years later I went back to work part-time while our daughter was in school. One of my jobs was supervising a staff of secretaries. I hired a woman who I soon realized was a Christian. I would hear her talk occasionally and sometimes we would share things. I started remembering other people I was around in the ‘world’ who I felt were far more spiritual than I was or even some of the Friends. And these Christians lived their faith. And they were joyful! I really wondered about that. Joyful although they were in a false way.
Sometime after that we had lunch after meeting with some of the Friends. Our friend was talking about some of the things on the Internet about the Fellowship. What? I decided to check for myself. One of the first things I read was something to the effect, “Are you afraid you haven’t done enough for your salvation?” I thought of course. Duh. I kept reading and my heart pounded the whole time. I wondered and wondered about what I read.
I didn’t want to get discouraged about the Fellowship so I didn’t read anything more for a long while. I had heard about The Secret Sect and read that. I just knew The Secret Sect was true. But so what, what else was out there??? All other churches were false. There is only one Way and I was in it. But I wondered about William Irvine’s comment about “Calvary ranters.” If you don’t trust in the cross and Jesus’s sacrifice, what else is there to trust in? Yourself? The Workers? And then I also realized for the first time that I will stand alone before God, not with the Workers or the Friends.
One day I turned on the radio and found a Christian station; a man with a Texan drawl was speaking. He was Dr. J. Vernon McGee and his program is called “Thru the Bible.” I was captivated. This man was speaking so plainly and joyfully. He didn’t pull any punches, it was just plain speaking. You knew for certain he loved his Lord. I started understanding things I had never, never understood before. He was so plain about the plan of salvation. I finally understood that salvation is a gift, we can’t earn it. We receive it when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He died for us!
And then I understood about earning rewards. That is what we work for. Dr. McGee often said, “I do not work my soul to save, that work my Lord has done. But I will work like any slave, for love of God’s dear Son.” At last, I began to have joy!!
I realized that my own righteousness was as filthy rags. I knew that anyway (again, duh), but to realize that I could have His righteousness instead was wonderful! And no longer was I afraid. It was as simple as that. Oh I had fear when I shared this with my husband and daughter. And fear when we all decided to leave the Fellowship later. One of the senior workers that I really liked and admired wrote that he hoped we weren’t just trying to serve God in an easier way. I tried to explain what I had discovered. It fell on deaf ears unfortunately. But my fears were leaving, a bit every day. I began to love to read my Bible!
My story is different than some because we didn’t leave because we were offended. We didn’t even necessarily leave for an easier way! I did cut my hair (it’s shoulder-length but I consider it long) but I don’t live what I would call a worldly life. We found a great Bible-based church with a great pastor whose love for God is obvious and amazing. In some ways we are busier than ever with spiritual things—we have adult Bible study on Sunday mornings, services an hour later, and Wednesday night studies. We also belong to a small group from our church that meets on Tuesday evenings to study God’s Word. We memorize scripture and pray for others. And we love it! We meet with a group of people who are trying to learn and follow God’s Word. And I don’t worry about meeting in a church building….we don’t worship the building after all. It is just a simple place set aside where people can meet. Like the convention grounds. We didn’t worship them either (at least I didn’t). Our pastor is supported by the people, just like the Workers are.
I don’t have any gripe or complaint with those still in the Fellowship. We never sent out any exit letter except to a couple that we were close to. I have respect for those in the Fellowship. But I feel closer to God than ever before, I read my Bible more, and I enjoy the little church we are in. The people in our church aren’t perfect but since I’m not either I fit right in! I remember discussing some of my concerns with my pastor. One of the questions he raised one time is “Who does the work of salvation in men?” I realized then that I cannot save myself. I never could. That’s where my fear came in. I knew I couldn’t save myself and yet in the Fellowship it seems like I was asked to do that. Now I have joy because I know Who can save me and I trust in Him!