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I was raised in a strict, evangelical, conservative Baptist home and community. I attended Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church, ironically not of the Missionary Baptist folk, but the Southern Baptist ones. Part of that culture was the eleventh Commandment, beyond the Ten Commandments, would be, “Thou shalt not miss going to church.” That would be one of the added ones to the ten, somewhere near the “Thou shalt not wear long hair” and “Thou shalt not listen to rock-'n-roll music.” So, my family and I went year-round, three days weekly, seven when in revival meetings. We attended Sunday School, Sunday worship; Training Union, Sunday night worship; prayer meeting, Wednesday night worship. The only time we could take time away was when on vacation, when sick enough not to go, and my mother let us three boys remain home one Sunday night to watch the Wizard of Oz. She felt that was okay, God would understand, seeing it was such a good, edifying movie for children. I do not know if my father agreed with that, but he did not raise a fuss about it.
Sunday mornings began early with the Gospel. When getting up, my dad would have turned on the television to the weekly Gospel singing show, always the Florida Boys. So, before church worship, we were already getting a dose of Gospel, and we had to dress up really well to go meet the brothers and sisters and the Lord. Now, this was a change for my father, for when I was a more little boy, I recall when he did not go to worship. My mother would go with the three little ones. My father was raised in a devoted, church-going family. What led him to quit for a time, I never was told.
I cherish these memories, even though I have changed regarding religion in many ways. I joke with persons that I came to a point, I am sure my parents were asking, stunned in spirit if not showing it on the face, “What has happened to our boy?!” For my beliefs changed considerably, so unlike what they had been and the Philadelphia Church had instructed me in. I much adore Buddhism, and I have Buddha statues in my home, but where I came from, one is likely to hear something like this, “Buddhism is a cult.” Or, “Don’t have one of those Buddhas in your home, or demons will invade your home.” Or, “That Buddha claimed to be God” – which he did not, in fact; he seemed to have little to no interest in “God” or “not-God” at all.
So, one may not be surprised that I was a Gospel preacher at age 15, serving as interim pastor for congregations while they looked for the next pastor, this at age 16,had a radio broadcast during high school and call "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," and served my first pastorate, a little church outside Lyons, GA, near where I was in a ministry degree program, when age 19. I was one-hundred dollars weekly, up from the ninety dollars I talked them from when I accepted the role, for my dad encouraged me to seek that extra ten dollars - my father was very good with money. I served the congregation nine months, and found out that was longer than most of the older pastors who came their way. I decided I had done pretty well as a teenager to last longer than almost all of them. Anyway, I was ready to go back just to being a college teenager, being a pastor was too adult for me at 19.