Family religious history

This was originally written in 2008 as a part of a class on American Religious History at Boise State University.  

Mother’s family

Maternal grandparents were originally Quakers in Iowa, who grew up in West Branch with Herbert Hoover. Sometime by 1920 or so they converted to become Christian Scientists, perhaps in part because my grandfather was a chemistry teacher in a high school. My mother was born in 1919. My mother and her brother were raised as Christian Scientists, though from some other family members (cousins, aunts, uncles) she also received a basic “mainstream Protestant” Sunday School background. When my mother was in college her father died. When she was a newlywed her mother died. Both were in their 40s and in general good health. Both contracted “lung infections”, and despite all of the prayers of the family and the Christian Science practitioners they each died within a few days of becoming sick. Even with the limited medical treatments available in the late 1930s and early 1940s my mother believed they would have both survived the illnesses if they’d had mainstream medical treatment. After that my mother gave up on Christian Science and started attending a variety of different protestant churches, mainly Congregationalist. Later in life she attended a variety of churches in the Protestant mainstream and for the last fifteen or so years attended a small Community Church.

Father’s family

My father’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, apparently areas that are now Poland or Ukraine or Russia. He never knew exactly where they came from, and we’ve not been able to figure it out, despite some work on it by my LDS sister in her genealogical research. There may be an answer someday. My father’s father died in an accident when my father was six years old, so very little is known about his background. My father’s mother was not observant of her Jewish faith or heritage as far as I ever heard or saw, and I visited her regularly and spent several weeks each summer with her. I received no religious training from her at all. My father never observed any religious practices, and never attended church with my mother when we were taken to Sunday School. I don’t recall him as being opposed to religion, he just didn’t care and didn’t practice it. It was just not discussed, and I’d consider him to be agnostic. He died of cancer when I was 17.

My background

As a child my mother took us (six children, I’m the oldest) to Sunday School fairly regularly, perhaps twice a month on the average. I recall attending Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist churches. My father was a traveling salesman and was only home about one week in six. My mother didn’t have a car and didn’t know how to drive, so where we went depended on where she could get a ride for all of us and where she happened to like the pastor. There were no churches within a reasonable walking distance, especially with small children, of where we lived throughout grade and high school. I always believed the basic tenets of Christian theology, but wasn’t otherwise observant. On a number of occasions, perhaps 20, during grade school years I attended an Episcopal Church with my best friend. At various times we did say bedtime prayers at home, but that wasn’t really consistent either. Between the work of teaching school full time, having a husband who was gone most of the time, and raising six children, my mother generally didn’t have time to do or teach us all the things she would have liked to. In her later years she apologized for that, but I reminded her she’d done a fantastic job, and she had absolutely nothing to apologize for.

In high school I dated a young lady for several years who was a fairly observant member of a local Methodist Church, and I frequently attended with her. I was even more interested in the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) and their parties and dances, and there is no question the girl and the group were what kept me going. After we broke up during my freshman year in college, I rarely attended church. I did attend a Lutheran church a number of times with another girlfriend, but when she dropped out of college to become a Roman Catholic nun (much to the horror of her parents, and to me), I quit going. Needless to say this caused all sorts or ridicule about me “being such a bad guy that the girl had to run away and join the Convent”. She was a nun for about 30 years before leaving the order in midlife. One year of college (first junior year) I went to a small Presbyterian college and went to the required Chapel and Vespers services, as there were severe penalties for missing, and attendance was taken.

During my first two marriages I was in church for my own weddings, and a few other special occasions, but that was it as far as I recall. I never took kids to Sunday School. I married my third wife in a campus chapel. She was raised in the Episcopal Church, but hadn’t attended in years. I can’t pin down exact reasons for my decision to try the Episcopal Church again, but it wasn’t because she had any interest. One day I called up St. Mark’s Church in Durango, CO, where we lived, and found out the times of services and started going. Within six months I’d joined the church. My wife did attend for my confirmation at Easter of 1984, but don’t think she went on any other occasions. She did give me her late father’s prayer book as a confirmation gift, and though I never knew him, I treasure the book.

My Children

I never took my children or step-children to Sunday School, even in the “drop off your kids and don’t go to church yourself” mode that some do. I don’t feel guilty about it, but think it would have been good had I done so, assuming I attended myself. None of my children (all adult, three mine, two step) attend any religious services, other than those for weddings, funerals, things like that. I hope that at some point they may find some value in spiritual beliefs, whether mine or others. The four who have children of their own also don’t take their children to church or Sunday School.

That’s about all I know about my history. Some may have history further back, but what you see is what you get.


2 thoughts on “Family religious history

  1. Just a few minor corrections. (Mom and I discussed religious family history often.)

    Mom’s Dad died of a massive stroke, at the podium at an assembly at the High School. He did not die of a lung infection. Her Mom did.

    When her brother was in his 20’s (both of her parents were still living) he was diagnosed with cancer. They prayed over him. When he returned for treatment, they could find no cancer and was considered cured by a miracle. (according to his parents) He died a number of years later of either stroke or heart attack. (I may have it in the genealogy file)

    As to Dad’s parents, his father was Catholic. Born and raised. He made Grandma Lester promise to bring up their children as Catholic. She agreed to do that. And she did send them to Catholic church when they were young. She was rejected by most of her family (parents, most of her siblings, most extended family) because she married outside of her Jewish faith. Dad’s siblings were all Catholic.

  2. I just found this in Grandma’s writing, called “My Grandma”:

    On January 7, 1941, one of Grandma’s sons-in-law, my dad, collapsed on the Monrovia High School stage after giving a speech at an evening P.T.A. meeting. He died three hours later in a Pasadena hospital at the young age of forty-six.

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