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Two Nine-Year-Old Atheists Walk Into a Church

Only in the 1970s

By Rebecca MortonPublished 3 years ago Updated 9 months ago 4 min read
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Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels

“Why are you two girls talking and laughing?”

Linnie (not her real name) smiled at me across the wide white table. My back was to the Sunday School teacher but Linnie was facing her. I waited for Linnie to answer the question, but she didn’t so I said, without turning around, “We don’t believe in God”. The Sunday School teacher, whom I’ve only seen once in my life, that one day, asked me to repeat my answer.

This time I turned to face her and, along with Linnie, repeated, “We don’t believe in God.” Linnie had told me this a few hours before at the house where we woke up that morning after the slumber party. We were nine years old. She had whispered to me that she was Jewish, but that she and her parents did not believe in God, and I said that neither did my parents and I. Linnie and I had stuck together since we both arrived the night before at the home of the birthday girl, a classmate whose mother they clearly did not know anything about.

In 1976 Milwaukee, parents who had nothing in common except the school their children attended thought nothing of sending their kids to one another’s houses. Parents would drive up to another parent’s heretofore unseen house and let their offspring out to go ring the bell and disappear through the front door to spend the night with a family they knew only well enough to wave at in the hallway at Back To School Night.

Photo by Arina Krosnikova

I was pretty sure my atheist parents had no idea the birthday girl’s single mother insisted that we, the party guests, all kneel on our sleeping bags for a Bible reading and prayer time before she left us to our all-night giggling and Truth or Dare. I was sure that neither Linnie’s nor my parents knew that the next morning we would all be in the mother’s station wagon riding not to our homes but way out to her church in what looked like a prairie field at least thirty minutes from where we all lived.

So here were Linnie and I sharing our non-belief with at least ten children we did not know and a middle-aged woman with big, curly blond hair and an angry face. I remember clearly, forty-five years later, her reply to our pronouncement: “You don’t believe in God? I once knew some people who didn’t believe in God and do you know what happened to them? Their car went over a cliff and they died!”

I waited for any more reasons to believe in God but this is apparently all the teacher had. She went on to tell us a Bible story I do not remember and then said it was time for us to go to the next class. We lined up at the door and then walked across the hall toward another door. I saw my younger sister, also a party guest, with a different class walking in a line parallel to mine. We looked at each other. Her face looked tired and confused as both of our lines walked into a large room filled with metal folding chairs.

Photo by Vijay Sadasivuni from Pexels

As the rest of the students and I began to sit in the chairs, a balding man in a suit and tie told us that the two children who did the best job being quiet and listening would get one of the white balloons that decorated the room. Linnie sat in a different row than I did so I had no one to talk to. Because all of the classes were together now for the first time since we entered the church, I hoped that this was the last part of Sunday school and we could go home after this.

We had to watch a slide show on a big white folding screen in front of us. It was pictures of the big white church we were sitting in with smiling people standing in front of it. The birthday girl’s mother was in the photos but not in the room with us. The balloon man said he hoped we would all come back to the church next week. I wondered if my parents would call the police about this whole thing. They did not.

The birthday girl cried as her mother drove us all back to our homes. Her mother asked why she was crying and she said it was because I wasn’t going to Heaven because I didn’t believe in God. Stunned, I remembered getting one last look at the angry blond teacher’s face as I left the church. She was standing by the open door as all the children walked past. She looked at me with what looked like confused amazement. I smiled at her as I headed to the parking lot, my hand tightly gripping my new white balloon. My eventual Christian faith may have begun with that balloon.

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This story was originally published on Medium.com.

Childhood
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About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

My childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm, and now I have a Substack newsletter at https://rebeccamorton.substack.com/

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