“Denomination,” by Carolyn Smuts

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

“What religion is this again?”

“Lutheran, I think.”

We sat there, Claudia and me, watching the activity on the altar. I could tell the guy doing the talking was cool because he wore a short-sleeved black shirt with his clerical collar. He was animated and funny. He held up a gold coin like the ones I got at Circus Circus in Vegas when I was 10; either that or he had the waxy chocolate ones with Menorahs on them we got in our Christmas stockings.

“See this? This is a Round Tuit. You get this when you take ACTION! You want a Round Tuit of your own? I’ll give you one! I just have to catch you doing something ACTIVE to show God’s love! On the playground, in your class, in the church parking lot… You know why? Because when it comes to showing love to one another, you should hurry up and get around to it. Get it? Around to it? A Round Tuit?”

Prepubescent laughter erupted in the pews.

“The priest is pretty funny.” I commented.

“You’re such a dumbass, Lauren. He’s not a priest. He’s a minister.” Claudia said in a way that made me want answers and feel like a class-A moron at the same time.

“What’s the difference?”

“Check it out.” She said, nodding toward a group of 14-year-old boys on the opposite side of the aisle. “That’s his son. Blue shirt.”

“Shut the hell up.” I replied. “They’re allowed to have kids? Oh my God, he is totally hot!”

“I know! His name is Matt. I met him on the way in. He’s cool, but he’s like, the preacher’s son. No thanks. Too weird.”

Despite average looks, Claudia managed to meet the coolest guys wherever we went—Disneyland, the beach, church camp—I was never jealous because she was smart as hell, funny as shit, and could handle herself like a fucking pro. I was happy just to be part of her universe.

It wasn’t easy, but we made it through the week at Lutheran Vacation Bible School. Claudia hooked up with Matt at least three times on the playground and I never got the damn gold coin I wanted. The music was tolerable and the people were really nice.

The following week was Methodist week. We lived in Southern California and most of the characters at the Methodist place were similar to the kids at the Lutheran camp, just more socioeconomically challenged. Attendees were surfers, skaters, and mall walkers. All in all, it was a good time. Except for the music.

Dear God, the music hurt.

“This is what’s really cool about Vacation Bible School camp; we practice all week then on the final day we put on a choir show just for the parents! It is super fun and a great way to show how much you learned about Jesus this week!”

Clearly Jill, the perky college student in charge of my group, didn’t know my mom—or me—very well.

She turned her attention to the dusty cassette player on the Formica wood-grained table around which we were gathered. Claudia kicked me in the shin underneath the table and glared with eyes that said, “Kill me.”

The lyrics that spilled forth from Jill’s contraption were the most painful pabulum I’ve ever experienced. The saccharin white bread bible tunes made my teeth ache like a dental drill. In fact, the Methodist camp was the first place I ever actually sat around a fire while somebody strummed Kumbaya on an acoustic guitar, the soft voices of the campers singing reluctantly along.

Friday, the final day of Methodist VBS, Mom dutifully attended the big “show.” It was awkward as hell but we enjoyed our mother-daughter doughnut and punch after the caterwauling, and then we escaped out a side door and made a break for the car.

The following week was Baptist week and Holy Mary, Mother-of-God, was that some fun stuff.

The junior high kids like Claudia and me were lumped in with the high school types. The entire week was basically a chaste, adult-sanctioned orgy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there was any actual sex in public areas, but it was eye-opening for an innocent observer like me.

We went to the beach and amusement parks; we sat in a darkened room and listened to Christian rock bands while 8th grade girls were felt up for the first time by high school guys. The sexual tension was heady and intense.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for those Baptists.

I think the following week was a Buddhist-inspired ceramics class where I met my life-long friend Christine.

Each summer, I was farmed out to as many different religious camps as possible so Mom could work and I was not left to my own devices at home. Still, by the next year, she decided it was too much of a pain driving me hither and yon and she was fine leaving me home. That was fine; I was able to entertain myself. As it turns out, my denomination was more MTV than Methodist. Besides, we only got a four-week break from our classes at the Catholic high school.


Defenestration-Carolyn SmutsFreelance writer Carolyn Smuts taught history at the college level before fleeing academic life to write. Her work has been featured in SELF, Glamour, Creative Living, Ultimate Motorcycling, and Business Week. Her most recent work was published by Akashic Books, Jitter Press, and Omnific Publishing. She lives in Southern California.

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