By Krissa Rumsey
I don’t have a strong faith memory from childhood. My carefree years as a kid did not include much churchgoing or Bible reading. We read the Nativity story on Christmas Eve (my parents made sure I knew the holiday was about Jesus and not about Santa, which set me wondering why anyone who did not believe in God would celebrate Christmas).
We attended sunrise church service on top of a small mountain on Easter Sunday, and I think I went to vacation Bible school once. Faith was not a part of daily life, but a strange visitor who, like an eccentric relative, would stop in for a visit and you would do things you didn’t normally do to entertain them, take the time to hear of their foreign and peculiar journey, then send them on their way and resume living normal life.
Then I turned 10, and my family moved from the diverse, open-minded, free-spirited state of Oregon to small-town, mountainous, homogeneous, and deeply Mormon northern Utah. I don’t think it took long for my parents to realize we “weren’t in Kansas anymore.”
We became the strange and eccentric visitors (who else had 1972 VW van as their primary mode of transportation?). We had clean-cut, well-groomed, ever-smiling people on our doorstep offering to help move us in, inviting us over for lemonade, and introducing us to their many children who would be instant playmates.
They were warm and kind and welcoming. They also began to send groups of men, elders, to our door to tell us about their faith. It was at this time that conversations about faith became routine in our house.
It was at this time that conversations about faith became routine in our house.
As my parents listened to what they were being told about this new faith, as they read the shiny new book they had been given called The Book of Mormon, and contemplated its relationship to the Lutheran faith of their forefathers, I overhead many conversations about what they knew to be the Truth.
In their quest to reacquaint themselves, and their children, with the faith they knew, my parents brought us to church … the one small Lutheran church that served our county and several communities in the neighboring mountain valleys.
I learned hymns from the red hymnal, page 48 became rote, I had a Sunday School class with two other people my age (one was our pastor’s son), I watched as my mom joined a strange group called the “altar guild,” and I tagged along to her choir practice, observing nine earnest voices faithfully attempt a perfect harmony. This was indeed an exotic, new world and I couldn’t get enough it.
This was indeed an exotic, new world and I couldn’t get enough it.
My parents talked about their faith continually as if an old friend they knew long ago had reappeared and they had a lot of catching up to do. They talked about how the doctrines the Mormons had been presenting them were contradictory to the Christian faith they had grown up with. Their old friend suddenly seemed to have significance.
They posed questions to the Mormon elders who eventually stopped coming over. This peculiar community we lived in was infused with faith from top to bottom. It was present in the schools as Mormon prayers were said regularly and peers would attend seminary classes on our campus (yes, it was a public school but there was little separation between church and state).
Mormon faith and culture were present in our neighborhoods as those that lived around us would shutter their doors on Monday evenings for “family home evening.” It was present among many close friends who couldn’t come over and play on Saturday because they were baptizing for the dead.
Looking back, it seems as if the evil one had dressed for battle every day and our only choice was to shrink, join him, or put on our own armor.
One particularly vivid memory I have is when my parents decided to host a Bible study in their home. Today, we might call it a small group, but then we just called it Bible study. It was a group of folks from the church who wanted to engage in more in-depth Bible study with our pastor.
We were arming ourselves for battle. There was serious conditioning going on. I got the sense that everyone was really hungry for armament.
They brought their families over and sent the kids downstairs to entertain themselves. I chose to remain upstairs with the adults while my pastor led us through the Bible. I was in middle school and had grown extremely curious about the two very different worlds I had been observing … the “secular” world—which in this community appeared very religious—and my world—which, to this community, appeared very secular.
I was in middle school and had grown extremely curious about the two very different worlds I had been observing … the “secular” world—which in this community appeared very religious—and my world—which, to this community, appeared very secular.
I lived everyday knowing I was on the outside, because in the community we lived in, you either belonged or you didn’t. And though we were deeply “in” our community each day, we knew we were not “of” it.
As a tween for whom belonging was important, it was critical for me to know more about the God who was the cause of this deep and sometimes painful separation. The God I came to know was not a distant stranger, the eccentric relative, because if He was, I don’t think I would’ve endured being an outcast for Him.
The God I came to know loved me—a 12 year old at that time—and understood my struggles and wanted to save me so much from them that He sacrificed His dear, beloved, one and only Son.
As I observed the Bible study group that came to our house on the same night the neighbors were shuttered in their homes, I observed that God is messy and not equally understood by everyone. The adults asked a lot of questions, they challenged our pastor, they raised doubts.
I observed that God is messy and not equally understood by everyone.
But at the end of the study, there was always prayer and the knowledge that we were all still loved very much even though we didn’t agree, and certainly didn’t have the answers.
My observations told me that the Bible wasn’t something you just nodded in agreement to and moved on. It required active conversation and was something that was always being questioned and challenged.
And no matter the level of questioning or doubt, the Truth was always exposed, which told me that we are people of sin who live under the banner of Grace and because of it, we are saved. Nothing else beyond that really mattered.
Truth was always exposed, which told me that we are people of sin who live under the banner of Grace and because of it, we are saved.
In my mind, this is an example of a family-centered faith journey at its best, where faith conversations happen between faith family members of all generations whose identity depends upon knowing what it means to be a follower of Christ. I am thrilled to be attending confirmation class with my own 12-year-old because my hope is that she will engage with her Lord and her faith family in a similar way.
Confirmation classes start again on Wednesday, April 15. Confirmation Sunday is May 3rd.