Embarrassing Stories: “Non-Smoking” in a Baptist Church

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I was raised in a Baptist Church, although it was called a Temple. For what reason I am still unsure. Every Sunday, growing up, until about middle school, rather than attending Church with the grown-ups, us children attended Sunday School. As a convert to Catholicism, one of the greatest surprises to me was seeing at Mass children of all ages, not relegated to a different form of churching.

In the Baptist faith which I was raised in, that is fundamentalist Independent Baptist, certain things were a sin, but the definition of sin was far more convoluted when compared to that of the Catholic Church. For example, drinking alcohol was a sin. The Church contends that any reference to wine in the Scriptures is grape juice. Flat out grape juice, non-alcoholic, grape juice. When I reached a certain age I started to wonder why it was that people were able to get drunk off of grape juice, and I was told that being drunk in the Bible was literally the same concept as gorging oneself on food and being gluttonous, that being drunk was then drinking too much wine, or grape juice as they understood it.

In Children’s Church, or Sunday School, we sang songs, watched movies, had puppet shows, and had prayer and sermons. Sword drills – that is competing with the other kids to find a certain verse in the Bible fastest was a consistent source of candy, or being best on your row (criteria defined as sitting still, paying attention, and reading along with the Bible verses).

We did have prayer, the kind of prayers that are typical of a Baptist Church. Nothing was recited, although in a sense they always said the same thing, but they did include particular prayer requests. Prayer requests at a certain point in our service became a significant source of holiness. I don’t mean this in a facetious way, but rather to say those who had the most prayer requests, typically older children were seen then as more in tune with the realization of God’s desires.

People would mostly ask for prayers for the salvation of a good friend of theirs, or for someone in their family who was sick or injured, but sometimes people would feel uncomfortable with saying out loud the prayer request, and they would then voice their request as an “unspoken prayer request”.

Have you ever played the game telephone? You realize how quickly messages and even simple phrases can become distorted then. I was one of those children that had a hard time with that game. I was pretty young, probably no older than Kindergarten aged or so when I started to catch on though that if you had more prayer requests you must be doing something right. As such I would strain my hearing during prayer request time to figure out what was being said. Did she say, “non rokin”, or was that “un stroken”.

You can see I had a hard time discerning what the older kids in the front rows were saying. As such, I came to the conclusion that the kids with what I now know as “unspoken” prayer requests were saying was “non-smokin’” prayer requests. I had no concept yet of non-smoking versus smoking or anything of that matter, I just was arranging the sounds as best I understood.

I decided I wanted to be Holy, and I really did have prayer requests that maybe I didn’t want to say out loud, but when it came time for prayer during our Sunday School and the adults asked who had a prayer request, my hand went up.

“Yes, Matthew has a prayer request,” they said. “What is your request?”

“Non-Smoking”, I replied.

“Non… smoking?” came the reaction of the adults with puzzled faces and a look of concern.

“Non smoking” I said affirmatively.

Someone gently nudged me and asked if I meant unspoken, but that term didn’t’ mean anything to me at the time and so I replied, “No! I meant non-smoking.”

This is how the Church began to wonder who in my family was a smoker, as it was a sin just like drinking or swearing or the lot.

I don’t know if they ever approached my family, I’m not sure if the adults understood I was misspeaking or not. What I do know, is that for many weeks in Sunday School, we all prayed for my non-smoking prayer request.

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