For my mother, religion was the only escape from alcoholic parents, a shotgun wedding, and a banal life. She searched feverishly for her lottery ticket to heaven in between Genesis and Revelations but Christianity merely cemented my mother, thoroughly mixing her up and permanently setting her in Pentecostal beliefs. She herded my siblings and I into a small Vermont church to have us learn the value of Jesus’ teachings.
The parishioners of Living Water Assembly of God congregated in the Addison County town hall every Sunday morning. The weathered colonial building sat in the middle of the metropolis of Orwell, a village of a thousand inhabitants and a small country store. Services were held upstairs amid rows of metal folding chairs and oversized windows, which allowed the humming fluorescent lights to be kept off during the long days of summer. The seats were filled with farmers wearing worn jeans and oversized belt buckles while the wives wore soft flowered dresses and wrapped thin arms around their men. They stood when the preacher began the service with a prayer and fell back to their seats when he began his sermon.
“Salvation.” The preacher was a slight man with a copper beard and a balding head. He spoke softly into a microphone so that the congregation could hear him above the shuffle of church bulletins and crying babies. “Salvation is our reward for attending to the will of God. When we accept the Lord into our lives, when Jesus becomes our savior, our guiding light, we are granted true wealth. Please open your Bibles to Romans 6:23.”
Chairs scraped against the wooden floors as husbands whispered silent questions to their wives regarding the location of the family Bible. In the back row, my brother ripped the church bulletin in half and began making a paper crane. The fields behind the windows held little interest and I was forced to listen to the preacher.
“Let us read. ‘The Wage of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Romans 6:23. This is the gift granted to us when we accept Jesus; we will have everlasting life and glory in God. Now, by no means is salvation easily obtained. Great gifts require great sacrifice. The Lord will test you at times.”
Heads nodded among the congregation. The farmers were no strangers to floods, droughts, and poverty. Fall’s early rain had caused much of the alfalfa to be baled wet. The hay grew mold over the winter and the warm days of spring caused many of the bales to smolder, ruined for feed. A dry summer was anticipated and many families had already eaten through their stores of frozen corn and peas. Though many were hungry, the coffers of the church were never fallow.
“Just as the Lord tested Job, He will surely test you, but recall Psalm 37:24; ‘Though he stumbles, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.’ During our times of famine and pain we must be steadfast in our faith in Jesus. Only through Him will we receive salvation.
The sound of spit hitting the microphone echoed through the room as he stuttered out the word salvation. My brother flapped the wings of his paper crane. A lighthouse decorated the tiny bird. My mother looked at us, hoping that we were listening. Her own salvation depended on that of her children and this would be one of many sermons.
Outside a honey truck passed, its side coated with manure. The truck headed for a nearby field to fertilize the soil. Some of the farmers were still planting even this late in the season. In Vermont, everyone sows barren ground.