Aside from Campus Crusade’s operatic dysfunction, I had a few other things going for me that prevented me from fully assimilating into the evangelical subculture. One of them was the Methodist church. In contrast to Campus Crusade, the Methodists were refreshingly apolitical, although they did seem a bit more preoccupied with the culture wars than you might expect.
I had become a regular attendee at the Methodist church a few months before Kaitlyn first invited me to join her Campus Crusade Bible Study. So early on in my churchgoing adventures, my energy was focused on establishing a home with them. This was not an easy task. I wouldn’t find out until much later, but there ‘s a weird dynamic in town where the closer your church is to the university, the more hostile your congregation is to college students. I was a few years older than the 40,000 kids that swarmed Penn State for nine months each year, but due to my youthful looks, the Methodists had me pegged as One Of Them. And since the church was located right across from campus, the animosity against college students ran long and deep.
My first clue that the Methodist Church might not be the best fit was my brief stint on the church’s financial committee in the winter of ’93, right before I joined Campus Crusade. I’ve always been the kind of guy who’s eager to volunteer. Whatever your church needs, sign me up. I didn’t mind the church’s skeptical reaction to my desire to offer my time and talents, because I was still getting acclimated to church services. Hell, I still hadn’t learned that drawing funny cartoons on the church bulletins and passing them on to the bored kid in front of me was bad form.
It took a bit of nagging before the pastor finally said that the finance committee needed volunteers. I could by his harrumph that this would not be a pleasant assignment. But I was eager to help, and now I was plugged in!
I went into my first meeting wide-eyed with optimism. My biggest worry was that I sucked at math. Instead I got sucked into a vortex of nihilism and resentment that soured my enthusiasm for my newfound home in a hurry.
The only thing the finance committee hated more than their miserable lot in life was the church itself. Every meeting was full of gossip and pessimism. And it wasn’t even interesting gossip. It was all about who didn’t tithe, who’s marriage was a sham, and how church’s latest project was always doomed to failure. If the project defied their expectations, then it was horrible idea. But they saved most of their ire for the pastor. He struck me as a nice guy: aloof but well-meaning. This was when I learned that Methodist Church has a policy of shuttling pastors in and out of churches every few years to keep things from becoming too hidebound. Even though he had a few years left on his term, the finance committee was counting the days until the guy left.
And the funny thing is, they didn’t really have any reason to hate the guy. There were no lurid backstories or shocking revelations that turned me to their side. They were the problem. They just plain didn’t like anyone, and it was easy to see why they had been annexed off to the finance committee. By the time Kaitlyn asked me to join the Campus Crusade Bible Study, I was dying to make a quick exit from the finance committee without feeling guilty about it.