The REVEAL Library: Re: San Francisco CofC: my impressions

Subject:      Re: San Francisco CofC: my impressions
From: (Catherine Hampton)
Date:         1996/09/18
Message-Id:   <51plou$>
[More Headers]

So, Bryan told on me. :> I was curious how I'd react after nine years out of the discipling movement and went with him and Jason this Sunday.

I won't add to Bryan's observations -- they were pretty much on target -- except to note that I think Elena McKean spoke at a rally for the Women's Retreat rather than was scheduled to speak at the retreat. The announcer mentioned that "our own Gail Euel" would be speaking at the retreat itself. (For those who don't know -- Elena McKean is the wife of Kip McKean, the lead evangelist for the entire ICC, and Gail Euel is the wife of Russ Euel, evangelist at the San Francisco Church of Christ. In the ICC, the evangelists' wives are generally women's counselors, the highest position a woman can attain in the ICC.)

The first thing I noticed was the noise -- I'd forgotten how loud ICC services are. I think the uncarpeted, echoing auditorium and large loudspeakers added to it. We got there about ten minutes before the service started, and everyone was gathered around talking or shouting out greetings to friends. A woman beside me and one behind me introduced themselves, as well. Jason wandered off and joined the crowd. One of his friends waved at me across the rows of seats.

The service started with a rousing song. I don't handle loud noise well, so my headache started about then too. But I enjoyed the singing -- it's been ages since I sang those hymns. The prayers sounded like so much "gimme gimme gimme" -- God bless this, God grant this, God do this. I don't think I heard a single word of praise to God except a formula "We praise You" at the beginning. After a while I found myself shutting out the speakers and praying silently on my own.

I thought I'd see several people I knew, and I did vaguely recognize a few people, but the only one I recognized for sure was Russ Euel, the evangelist, whom I'd met briefly in the early and mid-1980s at various discipleship movement seminars. He's still the original short, skinny guy with the attitude. ;> His talk would have been good for a motivational seminar for marketing or sales people -- he told some stuff about his history in the discipling movement, what he felt at various points, and how he decided to stick with it in spite of the problems. About ten minutes into it, when I told myself to quit thinking of it as a sermon at a Sunday worship service, I relaxed a bit.

I didn't like the constant emphasis on Satan, though. I don't object to talking about Satan if you are talking about God as well -- Satan is a reality in this world and can wreak real havoc in people's lives. But, as C.S. Lewis put it in the "Screwtape Letters", there are two errors the human race readily falls into regarding the devil -- disbelieving his existence entirely, and having an "excessive and unhealthy" interest in him. Talking about Satan when you aren't talking about God leaves him the biggest issue by far in the room, so to speak. :( It promotes phobias and other fear-based behaviors which people resort to when they're overwhelmed with issues beyond their ability to handle. I've never known it to promote =thought=, reflection, and the quiet inner spirit needed to receive and know God.

I was also uncomfortably aware of the constant unstated assumption that God's Kingdom = the ICC and only the ICC. Never did Russ acknowledge that people might leave due to real theological issues with the ICC. I didn't expect him to say he agreed with people who objected to ICC doctrines, but he didn't acknowledge that this was an issue at all, which struck me as akin to not acknowledging an elephant in your living room, given that this was a restoration service geared at former members.

Emotionally, it was difficult to be there, more difficult than I'd thought it would be. When I left the discipling movement, I really didn't know why I was leaving, except that I was turning into the type of person I couldn't stand and was running for my spiritual life. Years later, I sorted out a lot of the intellectual issues after the emotional entanglement had worked itself loose, but I never revisited the intense emotional enmeshment of those years in the movement.

Well, I revisited it all at once Sunday. In a few minutes I lost ten or fifteen years of my life -- I was twenty again, and excited, convinced I was part of the Kingdom of God and that we were going to win the world for Christ or die trying. I had that splendid golden arrogance, the certainty of youth that, once it decides on a course of action, never looks back or asks if it might have made a mistake. I could walk over the world's opinions, voices of caution from fellow Christians who were older and wiser, my own plans and hopes, and my own stifled inner voice warning me that something felt wrong.

I remembered the friends I dropped like hot potatoes when they finally couldn't keep this up any more. I remember the harsh, certain judgments I made against them. I remember the immediate emotional distance where there had been such intimacy. I remember confessing "sins" of overeating, being late for services, not bringing enough visitors.... I was clueless. I didn't see the monster I was growing inside of me -- the spiritual pride that was ruining anything good I did or was. I think those sins probably saved my soul -- they were the sole remaining things that warned me something was wrong.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.... After playing the part of the Pharisee for so many years, I'll settle for being the tax collector -- the sinner who has nothing to offer God and is utterly dependent on His Grace and mercy. Or maybe the raving maniac from the tombs who, thanks to my Lord's healing, is clothed, quiet, and in her right mind.

Jason and Bryan can both testify that I was a bit dazed after the service, although I doubt either of them realized just how much. I'll be glad to stand in my litle parish this Friday night, at any rate. :)


©1996 by Catherine Hampton <>. All rights reserved.

Home Page | REVEAL Autoresponder | REVEAL Webmaster