Maiden Lane Church of God, Part 3:

Youth Group (1972-1978)

In Part 2, I discussed the controversies that made my years as a teenager helpful for developing skill in rational argument and in dealing with conflicting parties. But every bit as much as I remember the controversies, I remember the fun I had as a youth at Maiden Lane. This part will be more like part 1, in describing aspects of the church at the time.

Youth Group

First of all, the youth group was divided into two sections--Alpha and Omega. The Alpha group consisted of seventh and eighth graders, and the Omega group consisted of high schoolers. Sometimes college kids home on vacation from classes would join Omegas too. Most of my years, the groups were led by lay people in the church who volunteered to help out with things. There may have been periods of time where one person was in charge of youth and perhaps received a stipend for that, but I'm not sure about that. For awhile, we even had a full-time youth pastor.

As soon as I started the seventh grade and was thus eligible, I began to attend Alpha youth meetings. Youth meetings occurred 5:30 - 6:30 Sunday evenings before church, which began at 7:00. Youth meetings were different from Sunday School. Sunday School, as I described in part 1, was much more focused on hardcore Bible study. Youth meetings were more focused on activities, usually fun ones, that provided opportunities to learn about applying the Christian faith to our lives. I don't remember very much about youth meetings in Alpha. At the time, my friends were at school, not at church, although I didn't have any particularly close friends at school (I didn't run around with any of them outside of school, for instance).

New Youth Minister

This all began to change when a full-time youth minister arrived on the scene. Let me give you a bit of background. All during my growing up years, our church only had one pastor: the senior pastor. All other functions were done by lay people--Sunday School Superintendent, choir director, youth leaders, etc. I don't know how the idea got started, but I remember the day when they introduced the candidate in church for the youth minister. When he and his wife stood up, there were gasps heard all through the church. I had no idea why, so I asked my father later. He said it was because his hair was so long. I didn't think it was long at all, but then I always had the second-longest hair of any boy in my school (remember, in those days, long hair on boys was a controversial issue, even in secular society), so I guess it did not stand out to me.

This person was hired as youth pastor. Before I go further with that, I need to back up a bit. Remember in part one I mentioned that once the pastor left in 1972, it was a major turning point of the church? I told about how much the previous pastor was loved and how (at least it appeared to me subsequently) he did not push change. Well, the pastor of my teen years, the one I knew most intimately, was mired in controversy his whole five years there, it seems. First of all, he didn't exude the warmth of personality that the previous pastor had. Secondly, he was interested in making changes in the church--or at the very least, changes were bubbling up from underneath (with people of my ilk pushing contemporary music, for example)--and the people were resistant to change. One such change was the hiring of a full-time youth minister. Some interesting irony here was that the previous pastor, the current pastor, and now the youth minister had all been pastors (or youth pastor) at the same church in St. Louis before coming to Maiden Lane. They may have all come from the same church, but they were not all of the same make-up.

Our new youth pastor was at times even a bit wild for us youth. He would sometimes say things or want to do things that even we felt were a little over the top. So imagine how much more he must have stirred up the general congregation! I don't remember specific examples of any sort, but it was just another brick in the Building of Controversy of the 1970s.

Life-Changing Event

The youth pastor was great for the church, though, even though many people may not have appreciated it. I don't remember how big the youth group was before he came, but I do know that after he left, it was never that big again in my years there. The big event that got things started in my life was the trip to Denver, Colorado for the 1974 International Church of God Youth Convention. We started preparing for this a year in advance, doing fund raisers to save up money for this trip. My favorite fund raiser was the Rock-A-Thon, where we would sit in rocking chairs and rock for 24 hours straight, allowed only a five-minute break at the top of each hour. My father was a youth leader at the time, and I remember him and other youth leaders wandering around the room on patrol with squirt guns (machine gun squirt guns), squirting anyone in the face who quit rocking, usually by dozing off. During these Rock-A-Thons, the main thing I remember doing to pass the time was play Monopoly. I remember one Monopoly game lasted seven hours!

The trip to Colorado was a 3-week trip. For the first part of the trip, we were going to a youth ranch in the mountains to help out with some work. The last part of the trip we were going to downtown Denver for the youth convention. There were 30 youth and 6 adults going on this three-week trip. It was a trip that would change my life in a major way.

We were going to go in a touring bus originally, but for some reason that fell through. Instead, we ended up taking one of our church buses, which are like school buses painted blue. We also took one car and took turns riding in the car to get a break from bus seats. On the way out, we stayed overnight in churches. That was so much fun! At the ranch in Colorado, we stayed in pup tents and ate in a big tent. It got down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit even in July up in the mountains, so it was nippy at night and early morning! The ranch time was the most memorable for all of us; we became very close during this time. The main reason for the trip was to go to the youth convention, but it turned out to be anti-climactic after all the fun we had at the ranch.

This trip totally changed my life. Before the trip, between school and church, I was more at home at school and very shy at church. I had friends at both school and church, but none particularly close in either place. The Colorado trip was such a high, though, that after I got back it was all I could think about for weeks. And suddenly my life turned around--all my focus went to church. At school, I became a total recluse, living in my own little world. At church, I was totally the opposite--I was extremely outgoing, loud, and crazy. And I had very close friends, closer than I had ever experienced before. The Colorado trip was the most important and life-changing trip of my life.

My Life As A Teen Revolved Around Church

Now I was a full-scale teenager in that my life revolved around my Friends. I capitalize Friends here because of their all-consuming importance. To miss any event where my Friends were had the feeling of a major tragedy. This was probably a major motivating factor in my getting involved in church very heavily in my teen years. To this day, I have never been anywhere close to being as involved in church as I was during my teen years.

Here are the activities that were a part of my weekly life:

•SUNDAYS -- The big day to see all my friends. Sunday School started at 9:15, but my father taught a Sunday School class so he liked to get there early to prepare, and I went with him so I could talk to my friends. So I got there about 8:30 usually, saw all my friends and they always had to drag me out after church at noon. Sunday evening, I got to church at 5:00 for youth group meetings which began at 5:30, and again had to be dragged out after church at night, close to 9:00.

•MONDAYS -- Once a month the churches in our district rented the skating rink out and had a skating party for 2 1/2 hours. I learned to skate at a very young age by going to church skating parties in Urbana (back when they still played organ music to skate by!), but I acquired my best skill at skating by these monthly skating parties at the Skyborn Skateland in Fairborn.

•TUESDAYS -- This was youth choir rehearsal night. Youth choir rehearsal was so much fun that it was one of my favorite nights of the week. I also rehearsed for other musical performances from time to time on this night.

•WEDNESDAYS -- Before church (starting about 6:30 I think), The Young Believers, a nine (or was it twelve?) piece vocal ensemble I was a part of, practiced. These were not my favorite times because we had to practice hard in a short amount of time and were under pressure to be perfect (since there were few voices) and had to be done in time for church to start. Church was from 7:30 to a little past 8:30. I liked to stay and talk after church then too, although not too many youth came Wednesday nights, so, as I recall, I talked to more adults these nights.

•FRIDAYS -- From time to time, we had parties on Friday nights, such as bowling parties, or seasonal parties, or other special events. I'll talk about some of these shortly. Quarterly--or at low points in the youth group, semi-annually--we went on weekend retreats.

•SATURDAYS -- Saturdays there were often youth activities, too. From time to time, we did a paper drive, in which everyone would bring their newspapers, we'd stuff them into the back of a semi and would get money for the used paper. (Before I finished high school, the price of paper got so low that this became pointless and was discontinued.) Every second Saturday of the month, we had district youth rallies, in which youth from churches in the area would meet at one of the churches in the district (taking turns visiting a different church each time) and have youth-oriented worship services. I have a lot of good memories of these times too.

So you see, my life revolved around youth group activities. I think this was a strong foundation for my adult life, having this anchor in so many activities focused around Christianity, and certainly having so much fellowship with other teen Christians. I felt so out of place at school because kids there only knew how to have fun, it seemed, by getting drunk, taking drugs, and other such stuff that had no appeal to me. I could never understand when kids would come in on Monday morning and talk about how much "fun" they had over the weekend, which included vomiting from drinking too much, getting stopped by the police, or not even remembering what happened because they were so drunk. It baffled me why they thought all that was fun. I had lots of wild'n'crazy times that involved nothing that made me sick or regret what I had done. What a great feeling.

Youth Meetings

Youth meetings, as I said above, tended to be more activity-oriented than Sunday School while still dealing with topics of concern to youth or topics presented in ways youth could understand. I remember one youth meeting I did...I was always a Pusher--a music Pusher that is, trying to get kids to listen to the latest and most on-the-edge Christian music. At one meeting, I put together some songs to play for them and had them consider what they thought about each song. Another youth meeting I remember is one in which we learned about persecution Christians suffer in some countries (in those days, mostly Communist countries). The church doors were blocked by "government guards" who wouldn't allow the unsuspecting youth to enter. Then someone would catch the attenders' attention and sneak them into a secret passageway into the church (and if you read my description of the church building in part one, you'd realize this was a fabulous building for such a plan!). Then during our youth meeting, the government guards discovered and busted our secret meeting place, putting everyone at gunpoint and asking them if they were Christians. (None of the attenders knew this was going to happen, so it really startled them!)

Youth Rallies

One reason youth rallies were fun was because we got to travel to other cities, and the bus ride was a blast. (In fact, at all the activities mentioned above, any that involved a bus ride, the bus ride itself was part of the fun.) But the worship services themselves were fun. Often contemporary musicians came to sing for us (without us feeling the tension of the older folk), and other times speakers that were good with youth would preach. One youth rally I remember was when God Squad came to sang. This was a group of primarily athletes from our nearby Church of God college, Anderson College. God Squad was popular not because they were great singers--they were not--but because they had a warmth and unpretentiousness about them. I'm sure the girls liked to go to see the handsome college guys--Christian college guys--and for the guys, God Squad provided a good role model in an era when there were few athletes who professed Christianity and most Christian guys were thought to be sissies. At this rally, they sang one old gospel song with a twist that really caught on with me and my friend. The song was "I Saw The Light." It goes like this:

"I saw the Light, I saw the Light, no more in darkness, no more in night. I am so happy, I shout and sing, 'Praise the Lord, I saw the Light!'"

Well, these guys added a fun little twist to this: after "Praise the Lord," they'd do a loud, falsetto "Whoo!" Then, the last time they sang it, they held onto the "Whoooooooooooooooooo!" until they ran out of breath. Well, like I said, my friend and I loved this, and all the way back from Bellefontaine to Springfield, he & I sang this song over and over. I may have even worn him out and continued singing this alone. At that time, the youth group was so big that we had to take TWO church buses to Saturday night youth rallies! My father was a youth leader. He rode the other bus. After every youth rally, we always went out to eat (another fun thing about going to youth rallies), and when we got to the restaurant in Springfield, I found out that my father had been doing the same thing on his bus--singing the God Squad version of "I Saw The Light" all the way back! I was so proud of him.

Youth Retreats

Youth retreats were a major weekend event of the youth group. We usually did these at least twice a year, and I think we even did them four times a year in the heyday of the youth group when we had a youth minister. We would travel to someplace far away, sometimes as far as northern Michigan or southern Kentucky, to a retreat center where it would be just us out in the woods for the whole weekend. The retreats consisted of a number of sessions for spiritual growth mixed in with sports activities, such as volleyball or hiking. The sessions tended to be of the serendipity type, where you start with surface-level activities to break the ice and gradually get deeper and deeper until you're dealing with really deep personal issues. These were usually very enriching times that provided a great spiritual high and deeply introspective, thought-provoking spiritual challenges. How much I enjoyed these tended to depend on how relationships were with various friends or girls I had crushes on, as well as the quality of the sessions themselves. But I would never miss a youth retreat--that would be unthinkable.

Youth Conventions

Another type of special event the youth group would participate in would be state and international youth conventions. The Ohio state youth conventions were held annually, usually in the spring, and lasted all day Saturday; I think one was even an overnight Friday deal. The international conventions were held every two years and lasted from Thursday through Sunday. I only went to two. 1972 I was too young, and for the1978 one, by that time our youth group was pretty dead and it was held in Seattle. I don't even remember if they went or not, but I was already thinking of college so it was not a focus for me. The 1974 convention was in Denver, which I mentioned above. We didn't like that one so well, but we loved the 1976 convention, held in Cincinnati. The quality of all the sessions, from the ones of everyone together to the smaller sessions, was outstanding. The convention began at Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati, where the five to six thousand youth present all converged on this one square while Found Free (I described them in part 2) performed. Then we lit candles and prayed and sang. What a beautiful time. Although I don't remember specifics from the rest of the convention, I do know we really enjoyed it. We stayed in the Netherland Hilton, a classy 1920s hotel (I think it belongs to Omni now)...that was a big deal for us teens. And something else I remember from that many awesomely gorgeous girls!

Other Youth Activities

We also had events on weekends that were just for fun. A semi-annual event was a trip to the church's denominational college, Anderson College in Anderson, Indiana. The fall trip occurred in October when the youth went to Anderson College for its homecoming. Yes, homecoming is normally made for alumni, but for me as a high school student, this quickly became one my most anticipated events each year. I went for the first time in ninth grade. Up to that point, I had been debating between three of the four Church of God colleges as my choice for where to be a college student--Anderson College, Warner Southern College (which I had visited twice before), and Warner Pacific College. But when I went to Anderson College's homecoming in October 1974, the deal was sealed--I couldn't imagine going to any of the other Church of God colleges. I loved that place! Homecoming weekends were great fun, running around the college campus, participating in the homecoming carnival things like the dunk tank , the egger, and hitting a car with a sledgehammer, the ice cream party imitating the famous Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor (they called theirs Pharrell's), and the variety shows that brought lots of hysterical laughter. Plus we stayed in a local church overnight and played basketball in their gym until the wee hours of the morning. I always looked forward to Anderson College homecoming excitedly after that first year there! In eleventh grade I became eligible to go to prospective student days in the spring, when we could visit classes, stay in the dorms, and again, run around campus. These were big-time events for me as a teen in the Maiden Lane youth group. And it paid off for the school--I ended up getting my Bachelor of Arts from Anderson College!

The most popular event was going to the great amusement park in Cincinnati, Kings Island. The park opened in 1972 or '73, so it was a new big deal. At the time, there were very few roller coasters in existence, and this park had three of them! One of them was a double racing roller coaster. For this event, our youth group would draw in 300 teens, obviously many who never came to our church for anything else, but also many who did come to some things, but everyone came to this! We all met as a single group several times a day just to make sure nobody was lost and everyone was all right. This was a perfect time to get bigger groups together. At one point, we had enough of us together that we filled a whole train of a roller coaster! All through the snake lines, we would have a great time, doing high fives every single time we passed each other, and doing all kinds of other fun things. Those times were a big big blast!!!

Other weekend events were smaller scale, like pizza parties, Putt-Putt golf, bowling, Christmas parties, and the like. With all of this going on with our youth group, I always had plenty to do and had LOTS OF FUN!!!!!

After The Youth Minister

Going back to the church itself...our youth minister only stayed a couple years, then he got senior pastor position somewhere in the South. It was a very sorrowful time to say goodbye to him; many tears were shed. His years there were the height of the youth group. Each week at youth meetings--we're talking times of learning here, not just the party stuff--at youth meetings we would have 75 kids--25 in the Alphas and 50 in the Omegas. This excitement and numbers dwindled considerably after the youth minister left. By the time I finished high school, there were only about 25 kids in the junior high and senior high groups combined.

The next associate pastor they hired, the situation ended up being a total disaster. One was bad judgement on the part of the church for how they assigned his job. Since the only second pastor anybody there had ever known was a youth pastor, many were under the impression that this person was the new youth pastor. I later learned that he was given a mix of responsibilities that included youth, Sunday School, outreach, and several other functions. They had him not focused on any one thing, but rather responsible for many different things. The second part of this disaster was that he was straight from New England and had a very reserved New England personality with a thick accent. This church was full of factory workers and farmers, and they were just not able to relate to this stiff New Englander. So all these factors came into play: the youth felt cheated because he wasn't spending the time with him that they thought he should, and neither the youth nor the adults could relate to him very well because of the cultural difference. The pressure on him was so terrible that at one point he admitted to a group of church leaders, "Sunday is my worst day of the week." His wife had become so distraught over the way people had treated her that she had quit coming to church altogether. It was a very sad episode in the life of the congregation.

I have one personal story to tell regarding this pastor's wife. One day as I was walking out the door, the associate pastor was there shaking hands with people as they left the church, as was the custom. His wife was there, and she held out her hand for me to shake it. I don't know why, but for some reason that shocked me so much that I just stared at her hand. Was it because pastor's wives never did this then? I can't remember now, and I know even at that time, I couldn't explain my reaction. I only know that I felt awful for my reaction. Why in the world didn't I just shake her hand? What was wrong with me? When I later learned, after the associate pastor had resigned and left the church, that the pastor's wife had quit coming because she couldn't stand the way she was treated anymore, the image of her offering her hand for me to shake and me just staring at it came back to me and chilled me. How much was my action a contributor to her hurt? How awful I feel to this day for that incident.

No Youth Minister

For the next associate pastor, the church had learned their lesson and would not hire someone to be a jack of all trades. But instead of hiring a youth minister, for some reason they decided to hire a music minister. I do not remember why that was, but I do remember that we youth felt unvalued because the church felt no youth minister was necessary. There was also some controversy because the church had a choir director, a lay person, who had served the church for some time, and some saw no need to displace this devoted lay person and replace him with a full-time music minister. At any rate, we got a full-time music minister. Although he made it very clear that he was not and would not be a youth minister, the fact that I was so heavily involved in music meant that he became a de facto youth minister for me. He and I had very different tastes in music--he was a trumpet player who liked Las Vegas show-band kind of music and I was a cellist who liked orchestral music and rock music, so we had a lot of good-natured but strong arguments about music styles. Added to that was the general controversy going on in the church about contemporary versus traditional music, which I discussed in part 2. Certainly, with someone able to spend their entire time only with the music of the church, the music program did become much more dynamic.


But meanwhile, the youth group was declining, both in numbers and in excitement. There were lay leaders who were giving their best to do all they could for the youth group, but without a charismatic leader who could devote his full energies to the youth program, the program weakened. Also at play was the general decay of the church. These were dark days at Maiden Lane. In 1972, about 1000 people attended Sunday School every week. Every year, I watched the attendance fall to lower and lower levels, as I also observed the spirit of the church fall into a type of group depression. You could sense the dying, the life fading from the congregation. The controversies were taking their toll, as people couldn't agree on what direction the church should take. The traditionals saw the cause of the problem to be the leaving of the old camp meeting style ways. The moderns saw the cause of the problem the inability of the church to relate to people in contemporary, meaningful ways. But also it just seemed that the very life of the church itself was fading...the passion was vanishing, and everything seemed mechanical. Church services during my youth years were terribly boring. I hated it that here we were meeting together because of the wonderful things that Jesus does in our lives, and yet everything reeked of monotonous, lifeless ritual. It permeated the whole church--not only church services themselves but this poison eventually even reached Sunday School and youth meetings.

The days got even darker. In 1977, both the senior minister and the music minister resigned about the same time. For six or seven months, we were leaderless in a church that was already wheezing. Attendance fell into the 500 range...half of the size of just five years before. It was a very depressing time at Maiden Lane Church. I could hardly wait for my college days to begin.

In February 1978, a new pastor arrived on the scene. But I was off to college in just seven months, so I never became as close to this pastor as the previous one. I could tell that he would turn the church around, although it wouldn't necessarily be into the kind of church I would have liked. At any rate, his era was an era in which I was only an outsider looking in. The years that made their mark on me forever were the years 1972-1977.

(The next page concludes this story.)


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.

All about music!  My Annual Music Awards, my music Hall Of Fame, and other writings about music and musicians I like are found here.../Music_Central/Welcome.html
An index to my writings about movies, books, and the media in general, such as news coverage and media bias../J_Lee_The_Media_Critic/J_Lee_The_Media_Critic_Index.html

My political and religious beliefs, and my commentary
 on society and politics.../Society_Central/Society_Central_Index.html

Photo albums from some of my travels outside of Michigan.  Eventually I hope to include travelogues too.

                     Various photos
                           I’ve taken
                     not connected
                            to any of
                            my web-
                            site pages.

What does it mean to follow God?  What should the church be like?../Pondering_God_And_Church/Statement_Of_My_Religious_Beliefs.html

A list of all the churches I’ve attended, plus full stories about some of them. Churches,_Part_1.html


Stories about churches I’ve visited,_Part_2.html
The “Home” section: my front page, the descriptions for each of my sub-websites, and the descriptions of all the places where I hang out on the web.../Bananaleaf_Central/Front_Page.html