Maiden Lane Church of God, Part 1: 1960-1978

I was born in 1960, and at 2 weeks old I was brought to church for the first time. I grew up in Maiden Lane Church, so my experiences in this church did much to shape my spiritual journey. Since I was part of this church such a long time, I would like to give a little history of the church that pre-dates me before I get into my years of the church.

Maiden Lane Church of God was originally called First Church of God and was founded about 1907. (I'm doing all this by memory; Maiden Lane historians feel free to correct me!) It started in what looks like from a photograph I've seen of it, a one-room building. By 1925, they had built a new chapel that was still being used during my college years. The church kept growing, and adding on. They bought nearby houses and converted them into a larger worship sanctuary, and then built a separate youth building and reception hall (because of a theological debate about food being in the church). By the time I was born, the church owned virtually the whole city block, and soon literally the whole block as well as parts of adjacent blocks.

The Church Of God

The denomination of which it is a part is a quasi-denomination headquartered in Anderson, Indiana. This denomination began in the last decade of the nineteenth century, in Indiana I believe, born in a time when denominations were so bitterly arguing with each other that people often held the belief that they were right and everybody else was wrong and their salvation was in question if others didn't agree with their particular denomination's teachings. The Church of God wanted to end denominational fighting and promoted the idea that all Christians are part of the body of Christ, and as far as I can gather from my fuzzy historical knowledge, the intent was to start a movement to end all denominations.

I don't know what happened along the way, but by the time I arrived on the scene, the Church of God had in effect become another denomination that believed they were right and everybody who didn't believe their way was suspect in their salvation! Although this was never the official teaching of the church, it was clearly an attitude of the congregants, one that I easily picked up from those passing comments. A classic one is when we teens considered dating a Nazarene or a Baptist, we were warned not to date from those of "another religion," because it would cause much discord in the marriage. And it was unthinkable to do any kind of joint venture with such other churches because they had incorrect doctrine.

So what was the doctrine of the Church of God? Actually, it wasn't a whole lot different from other evangelical churches except on two key points that stick with me today:

1.Church Membership: Since all who believe in Jesus Christ are members of His Body, the Church, then there is no need to have someone become a member of a church. In fact, it is wrong, because the church has no right to determine who is part of the church; only Jesus can make that determination because only He knows who His children are.

2.End Times Theology: The belief in how the world would end was simple: Jesus would appear in the clouds, as he left, without warning, the living and the dead would rise to be judged, sent to heaven or hell, and the world as we know it will be gone forever. The Church of God did not believe that Jesus would come back for a thousand-year reign (a theological belief often labeled "The Millennium"); this seemed especially offensive because it implied that He didn't get it right the first time. The church taught that the Beast, as well as the Tribulation and other such things described in Revelation, were written for the people of that day and already occurred (but not Christ's coming back, just the Beast and Tribulation stuff). I may be getting some of the finer points jumbled, but the end message I got was this: No Millennium, no Rapture where the believers would just disappear and all the unbelievers would be left on the earth for a time, and no pre-occupation with the Beast or other end-times signs. The teaching was that Jesus said he would come like a thief in the night, so always be ready.

These two teachings made so much sense to me that they have stuck with me throughout my life, even though I have rarely attended a Church of God since my high school years. The membership teaching made perfect sense to me--why should you "join" a church? If you are a Christian, you ARE part of the Church! When I shared this with one pastor at a church I attended in my adult life, he found the idea to be quite incredulous. How could the church operate as a legal entity in this country without people who were officially members? Who would be responsible for things? I don't remember how the conversation went from there, but I do know that since I grew up in a church that had no church membership and there has never been any problems with that type of operating, I had as hard a time seeing his view as he had seeing mine. At any rate, I’ve gone through most of my adult life without ever having been an official member of a church, though I have always attended church regularly; it just grates on me, the very thought of JOINING a church! I am a Christian, I already belong to the Church! Why do I need to go through some kind of membership mumbo jumbo?

(Finally, I ended up joining a church several years ago, but it was a difficult decision for me.)

As for the end times theology, this also made great sense to me. Although from time to time we had a series of sermons or Bible studies on the Church of God's beliefs about the end times, the basic message I got out of it was a valuable one: if Jesus is going to come back without notice, and he gives plenty of parables to warn that this is how it will be--we'd better be ready at any time. What has strengthened my belief in this focus is seeing all these Millennium, Rapture, and Mark Of The Beast people spend so much time getting worked up about their views of how the world will end that they forget to prepare themselves spiritually for that day. Instead, they're looking in every nook and cranny of world events to try to determine if this is a piece of the end times! Sometimes it gets ridiculous, as when some people got all upset because at one point, JCPenney's credit card numbers happened to reach a range that began with 666, and they were decrying JCPenney as being part of the setup of the system of the Mark Of The Beast, "so everybody, drop your JCPenney account!" PUH-LEEZE!!!! Seeing all kinds of ridiculous garbage like that and how much time people waste on that has strengthened my belief in the end times as I was taught growing up.

The Church of God is an evangelical denomination, and as such, puts high importance on converting people to Christianity. At Maiden Lane, I also grew up with a strong emphasis on church attendance, Bible reading, and prayer as important elements of the Christian faith. There was very little said about things like social justice, helping the poor (as a mission, but it was evident that if someone in our midst was poor, others would help them out), the environment, or other such "left-wing" issues. There was much said about "holiness" issues--refraining from smoking, drinking, dancing, cussing, going to movies, playing cards, and dressing immodestly--in general, not "being like the world." I'll get more into that when I start talking about my teen years.

Camp Meeting

The Church of God kept alive its heritage from the late 19th/early 20th century days of the event known as Camp Meeting. I believe camp meetings began in the early or mid-19th century, as evangelists would travel to rural areas, set up a tent, and hold church services every night for a week or two. These tended to be highly emotional and were meant to "get people saved." What remained of this tradition by the time I came around was a piece of land owned by the local area Churches of God in which every summer, for ten days in August, people from our area of Ohio would converge for nightly church services. Some had cabins on the grounds that they returned to each year; others lived in dormitories; still others brought their tents or RVs. This was always an exciting time for me not only as a child but even as a teen. Though I mostly only hung out with people from my own church, it was still a special time because the sanctuary was virtually all open walls, with only a roof above us, so it was time we could be in church but still enjoy the summer air. Also, the grounds had a Christian bookstore (also with little toys, which I loved to get as a child), a concession stand (though my family rarely had the money to purchase food there), and most of all for kids, lots of land to run around on. This campground was on a very hilly area, so we had fun running up and down the hills as well as rolling down the hills. For a kid, this place was big and had lots of territory to explore.

But it wasn't only the land. Getting people together from all these churches brought about a kind of excitement, and the church services always seemed livelier. The music was much more emotional, and the preachers were usually either traveling evangelists or famous pastors, so their speaking tended to funny and/or fiery. I have a lot of good memories from the August camp meetings in Springfield. To this day, the feeling I have in August is a feeling that originated at camp meeting.

The Altar Call

Back at the regular church, the heritage was similar. All Sunday morning and Sunday evening services ended with an altar call, in which the choir would sing a lot of verses of a hymn while people who wanted to be prayed for would go down to the front and kneel at the altars. Others would come and pray with them. The biggest purpose of the altar call was to get people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but many people who were already Christians went down to the altar just to pray about some struggle or heartbreak in their life, and their friends (brothers and sisters in Christ) would join in prayer with them.

Though I had a positive impression of this phenomenon growing up, my experiences throughout the years gradually lowered my opinion of it. I remember at least a couple times as a child, when my mom was at the altar praying and people praying with her (at that time my father wasn't a Christian and didn't go to church), I would go down to pray with her. I remember at least one time, when I was really small, the reason I went down was because some older lady sitting beside me (whom I knew well) really pressured me to go down and pray with my mom. When I got there, someone said to me, "Did you come to get saved?" Being so small and nervous about going up there and not knowing what to do, I just nodded my head. Some awkward times like this as a young child made me a little shy of going to the altar.

As a teen, I went down to the altar a few times, but quickly dropped that practice as I discovered that sometimes the other teens who showed up to pray with me were not necessarily teens I felt very comfortable with talking about what was bothering me. In other words, you couldn't choose who was going to pray with you. So I eventually decided it was best to have people pray with me in other settings.

The Effects Of Buildings On The Church

In my childhood days, we had church in "the tabernacle," a sanctuary that could probably hold about 750-1000 people and that was packed full on most Sundays. I remember a few Sundays that we never got to the sermon because people got so touched by some song being sung that they started going down to the altar in the middle of the song, and soon everyone was going to the altar, so basically the sermon got set aside and everyone just prayed and sang. The church was really alive and kicking in those days.

In 1970, when I turned 10, the church had finished a new sanctuary that would hold 1500 people. This was an important turning point for this church--for the worst. (Another even more important turning point came about in 1972--more about that a little later.) The old tabernacle was in a brightly lit room--there were large windows on each side wall, windows in the roof (vertical, not slanted with the roof), and a large stained glass window of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane also on the side, beautifully lit during daylight hours. The new sanctuary, however, had NO windows to the outside; even on a bright sunny day, it was dark and dingy in there. This sanctuary also had dimmer switches on the lights, which apparently fascinated the church leaders, because they liked to have this already dark sanctuary dimly lit before church and during the sermon.

Lighting was one problem. Size was another. There was something cozy about the old tabernacle, despite it being crowded. The new sanctuary, even when full, seemed just too massive. The close feeling of all having fellowship together was lost, and you just felt like a small person in this massive place. In a traditional liturgical type of church like a Catholic or Lutheran church, a cathedral really works out well because you feel this awesomeness of God as you quietly sit and think about Him and sit in awe and reverence. But that wasn't the style of Maiden Lane--it was camp meeting style. The camp meeting style, however, got squashed in the massive new dark sanctuary.

New Leadership

The second turning point occurred in 1972. The pastor had been there for 19 years and had a great following. The people loved his warm and caring style, and his sermons had a good range of humor, fire & brimstone, and encouraging assurance. He also seemed to be, as I recall from my teen years (which was after he left) rather conservative in his views, which fit well with the people of that church. At this point, attendance at Sunday School was near 1000 people every week (church usually had 100-150 less, since many children only came to Sunday School--remember the Bus Ministry phenomenon?).

1972 was the last year I saw attendance consistently at 1000 before I left Springfield to go to college in 1978. When this beloved pastor left, whoever would follow in his footsteps would have a hard time. People were used to 19 years with one person and one way of doing things, under a pastor they also liked very much personally. The pastor who came after him was never able to connect with the people on a personal level as the previous one had. Worse yet to many in the congregation, he liked new ideas. By the time he left 5 years later, Sunday School attendance was down into the 500-600 range. But for me, this is my most influential pastor, because he was pastor during my prime formative years--12 to 17 years old.

I will talk about my teen years at this church on the next page. Before I get to that, I have some more things to say about my childhood years and other general stuff about Maiden Lane.

The schedule at Maiden Lane went like this:

  1.   Sunday School 9:15 -10:15

  2.   Sunday morning worship 10:30 - 11:45 (or 12:00, sometimes even 12:15, depending on altar calls)

  3.   Sunday evening worship 7:00 - 8:15 (or 8:30, even 8:45...maybe even 9:00 or 9:15 if things really got going)

  4.   Wednesday evening "Prayer Meeting" 7:30 - 8:30 or so

Sunday School

Sunday School was a big thing at Maiden Lane. As I mentioned above, attendance at Sunday School was even higher than attendance at church. The main reason for this was the Bus Ministry. This was a popular thing at the time, but I think it was even bigger at our church than any other church in town. If my memory serves me correctly, we had about eight buses at the height of this era, some of them very old, going back to the late 50s or early 60s. The buses were used to go pick up children who wanted to come to church--or their parents wanted them to come to church--but the parents didn't go. However, the adults were every bit as serious about Sunday School; it was not a kids' thing. There were very few people who went to Sunday morning church but did not go to Sunday School, and they were usually the peripheral types, the Christmas-Easter attenders.

As I mentioned early on this page, the church kept taking over houses and converting them to a church building. This led to a most fascinating building. This old, huge building had so many secret passageways and rooms that I was still discovering new hallways and rooms and closets even late in my high school years, after running throughout this building in all my growing up years! I mean, how many buildings are that fascinating?

Sunday School was held in this old mystery building. My pre-school years were in the basement, my elementary school years were on the second floor, again, with lots of little rooms in oddball places, and hallways everywhere. In fourth grade, our Sunday School was in a building that was still a house we had just bought (no conversion work done). My middle school years were in a building built separately in the 1950s, a brick, metal and glass building with a half basement and a single upper floor. My high school years were in the old tabernacle, where church services were held before the new sanctuary had been built. Since this church was so large, every grade had its own department, until 5th grade, when they were grouped by 5th-6th, 7th-8th, and high school. Within each department, there were also a number of classes. The format of Sunday School was like this: First, you'd assemble in your whole department, sing songs, hear announcements, learn and recite memorized Bible verses. Then you'd break up into your separate classes, which usually had 6-12 students each, and learn in-depth various Bible stories. In junior high and high school, there was less concentration on Bible stories and more on issues facing teens and what the Bible said about them, but still no lack of formal learning of what was in the Bible.

I don't remember if adults met together to sing, etc. before going to their individual classes. Adults also tended to be grouped by age levels and/or marital status, although until my late teen years, they were rarely categorized as such; classes were identified by the person's name, such as "Joe Smith's class." Generally, they had a "Sunday School Quarterly" that they used, a book that a lazy or busy teacher could just read from or have various people in the class read from, that would cover parts of the Bible to be studied and have discussion questions. Many teachers used the lecture method, or lecture with discussion. A few were more creative and brought in props and used other methods to generate more interest.

I believe Sunday School was very important to my spiritual journey. All that teaching in Sunday School has made me well-informed of what's in the Bible and how it all fits together. This was not the only factor that contributed to this knowledge, but I think it was a major one, and without it, I wouldn't have near the knowledge of the Bible that I have today. These days, Sunday School seems to be a dying phenomenon, being replaced by the small group Bible Study in people's homes. But I have never liked the Bible Study phenomenon. It's not the same as Sunday School. It seems to be more focused on "what do you think about this Bible passage" and "How does this relate to your life?" rather than just learning, hardcore style, what is actually there...i.e., becoming lay scholars of the Bible, so to speak.

Sunday Worship at Maiden Lane

Sunday morning worship at Maiden Lane during my childhood years was still closely tied to its camp meeting roots. Usually we sang three hymns, there would be one or two performances by a soloist, duet, trio, or quartet, and the choir would sing a song. We would have an offertory, during which either just a pianist or organist played, or someone would play orchestral instruments. There would be announcements as well as a sermon. After the sermon would be the altar call, described above. Sunday night worship tended to be more informal--instead of hymns only, sometimes they would sing choruses too, such as Bill Gaither choruses. There was also more singing on Sunday night. Other than that, pretty much the same.

By the time I was in high school, Sunday morning services had devolved into something quite formal. It almost felt high church, and in fact more high church hymns were being used, such as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." But despite the high church feel, we would sometimes still sing old Church of God hymns like "The Church's Jubilee" or "There Is Joy In The Lord." However, these rowdy hymns were usually delegated to Sunday nights. By this time, there was also a printed program. It upset a lot of people when this started because they felt it was "quenching the Spirit" by having a set program. These dissenters did not win out, however; it was quite ridiculous because by the time this was done, the services had already degenerated into a formally planned sequence.

Wednesday nights at Maiden Lane

Wednesday nights at Maiden Lane were called "Prayer Meeting" long after they had ceased to b prayer meetings. I don't remember clearly what they were like when I was a child; perhaps we didn't go that often in those years. When I was a teen, I went to church every chance I could get--to see my friends!--so I attended Wednesday nights regularly. Mostly they were dreadful. Few people attended and they were scattered throughout the sanctuary. Singing was horribly lifeless. There was often a time when people were asked to stand and give testimonies of what the Lord had done for them. Sometimes you heard some good stuff during this time, but too often you got the people who stood up and had nothing in particular to say but would go home feeling guilty if they didn't say something, for they had passed up an opportunity to speak to others about God (a feeling that perhaps was based in some passages of the Psalms, or perhaps based on some strong upbringing). The talks by the pastor on these nights were less sermons and more instruction-style, and it tended to be more of certain passages of the Bible being covered in a series. I think by this time Wednesday nights were called "Bible Study" nights. That part was okay, as I can recall.

Conclusion to Part 1

So there is my church background, the format and some basic teachings of the church that provided the foundation of my spiritual journey. It was a church that taught me the Bible thoroughly and taught me that the Bible is the final authority of all truth. It was a church in which I experienced times of congregational passion for Jesus, and times of seeing the passion fade. In the next section, regarding my teen years, there will be much more about those times, times which also had a great influence in my spiritual journey. In the final section, I will briefly describe more recent experiences at Maiden Lane.


IMPORTANT NOTE: As with all churches in this section, please remember the following points:

1.All descriptions of the churches reflect my own observations and interpretations at the time I attended; these descriptions are not intended to be objective. The main purpose of these writings is to reflect on the effect churches had on my spiritual journey, thus the focus is my experiences at the churches and not an objective reporting of the churches themselves.

2.Keep in mind that churches, like any organizations, change over time. The descriptions I list describe the churches at the time I attended, but the church could have changed immensely since that time, for better or for worse. These writings are not for the purpose of helping one decide whether the church is one they should or should not choose; the church may be completely different by now.

3.Any criticisms put forth in any of my writings on the churches are not meant to be objective criticisms to be answered by the church, but rather, they are merely my opinions of the church at the time I attended there, and how those experiences and my opinions of them shaped my spiritual journey.

Churches I’ve Regularly Attended is a sub-website of J Lee Harshbarger’s personal website.  To visit other sub-websites, click the links below.

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