church on the front porch

Dad and I often talk on the phone, getting into some surprisingly deep topics, like love and war and religion. (Whew!) He inspires me more and more as time goes on.

Dad lives in rural Oklahoma and turned 80 this year, but he continues to blow my mind. He’s got a Facebook account. He weathered severe financial hardship during the economic downturn in the U.S. He enjoys babysitting his great grandkids. When I send him books in the mail, he reads them, no matter what they’re about, and then we talk about them on the phone.

And he goes to church on his front porch.

That was a shocker to discover. Let me put this in context. I grew up in the southern U.S. in a Southern Baptist culture and Dad was a Southern Baptist minister. (The stereotypes are really piling up now.) But wait.

Though I was given a full-body dunking by my dad in the water of the baptizing pool at the front of the church in a little town in Arkansas, it didn’t take. What I mean is, I never connected with organized religion, even though I was immersed in its culture.

It took me a long time to realize that I could be spiritual without being religious. All the while, from first to last, Dad never pushed me in any particular direction. My spirituality was my own business. I find that to be a remarkable perspective for a minister father.

When I was in early high school, Dad switched to being Presbyterian and became a Presbyterian minister. I’ll bet he explained why, but I’ve forgotten. I loved the new church’s youth group, so I was happy. Eventually, Dad went back to school and got a Doctor of Ministry degree.

After high school, I moved up north to go to university. Then I moved to the Northwest coast. Then to western Canada. (As my mom, who was born and rasied in the Deep South, used to say, “Honey, you were never Southern.”) Now I live in Germany. Pretty far away from dear Dad. So we talk on the phone.

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About a year ago, I called Dad on a Sunday to leave a message, assuming he’d be at church, like on every other Sunday morning since I’d known him, but he answered the phone.

“Hey,” I said, “what are you doing at home?”

There was a thoughtful silence. “Well,” he said, “we’re not sure we want to keep going to the Presbyterian church, so we’re taking a break.” (“We” is him and his wife.) That was a culturally atypical decision. In the area where my dad lives, there’s a church about every two square miles. “We’re thinking we’ll try out the Unitarian church next.” I fell off my chair.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Then, about a month ago, I called Dad again on a Sunday and he answered the phone. “No church today?” I asked.

“Oh, we had church,” he said, “out on the front porch.”

“Really?”

“Yep. We had a discussion about theology. That was our church today.”

Curious, I asked him what they’d talked about. Wow, was it interesting! That prompted us to have our own long conversation about theology. I grinned with happiness for a long time after that call.

Dad’s wisdom, shared by the way he’s lived his life and in our conversations, inspires in part because he embodies and models these deep and far-reaching perspectives:

  • No belief is too sacred to question.
  • Choose for yourself what to believe.
  • Why not try out some new beliefs?
  • Let’s talk with each other about what we believe.

Trying to embody these perspectives makes me feel at the same time closer to Dad and more like myself, which only makes it easier and more fun to talk with him.

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3 comments to church on the front porch

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Hey Grace,
    what a loverly story about your Dad and his front porch church.
    I’d love to join him on Sundays. Around here, Sundays are generally for sleeping in late– at least for those of us who work. (I don’t.) I do my deep thinking and writing and deep emotional work early in the morning. My Rational Mystic time.
    Out on the porch, peering at Mt.Rainier, the lenticular clouds spinning off the summit, observing the wildlife (racoons, squirrels, deer, cats) zipping around the yard, tempting one another to leap from branch to branch.
    Church. Deovotion. Bring me back to myself, swaddle me in life.

  • […] a Southern Baptist minister (now a retired Presbyterian minister flirting with Unitarianism … long story) who even shrugged and said, “Sure, why not,” when my brother and I discovered cursing. For a […]