One of the things that I probably most took for granted in establishing my own religious viewpoint was that the context was unequivocally Christian. On neither side of the family was I exposed to individuals of different religions. There were no Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Taoists, or even admittedly atheists. About as far removed from the overall family Christian context one could get was to be Roman Catholic. Instead, it was the Congregationalist and Methodist denominational background that prevailed, especially as embodied in Canada as The United Church.
I was baptized as an infant at Central United Church, the church closest in proximity to the Royal Victoria Hospital where I was born in Barrie. But again, on both sides of the family, although that was the church of choice, it didn't seem to matter much. Attendance was irregular, there wasn't (as far as I can recall) much talk about religious issues - just weddings, funerals and a very occasional Sunday service.
So when Mom took me to Emmanuel Baptist Church, she strayed only minimally from the family standard. The deviation was small, but it was in a direction towards the religious right. The next deviation she took, and which I followed, was even further to the right.
My Mom's friend mentioned a church she had started attending near the Barrie City Hall on Mulcaster Street that was part of a small but fast growing denomination called the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Theologically indistinct from evangelical Baptists, the central feature of the denomination was this business of being baptized in the Holy Spirit and the phenomenon of "speaking in tongues", something which my Mother's friend encouraged Mom to investigate more closely.
We started attending while I was still in primary school. It was here that I quickly started making friends who were different from my neighbourhood friends, all of whom were planning on graduating from Codrington Public School after grade eight into grade nine at Barrie North Collegiate. But both my Mother and Father had attended Barrie Central Collegiate and were big fans of the school's famous Barrie Central Collegiate Concert Band, led by the inimitable W.A. Fisher. One of the first friendships I made was with the son of my Mother's friend, someone whose plans to attend Central Collegiate and to be part of the concert band interested me.
I also recall wanting to start fresh in high school with new friends and with the socially advantaged and privileged kids in our neighbourhoods who played musical instruments with this social phenomenon of the Central band. In a way, it was my Father's musical tastes which helped shape this interest. I distinctly recall listening to Al Hirt and a whole host of big bands that he would play on the stereo system he had in our workshop downstairs. The trumpet was always the star item in the musical universe of the big bands, so I opted to play the cornet/trumpet when I applied to be part of the band.
Another friendship that was cultivated and that has last a lifetime in that church was established shortly after starting high school. M. has been one of my closest friends ever since. So as I began to develop independence from the constraints of neighbourhood friends, music and friendship were compelling aspects.
In addition, the services at the Pentecostal church were a lot of fun for young people. The music has upbeat, loud and emotional. Not only was there an altar call at the end of each service - similar to the Baptists but with far more emotional fervour - there was this very vocal and ecstatic business of speaking in tongues, people laying hands upon one another in attempts to "get" others baptized in the Holy Spirit. There were claims of miraculous physical healing too, with other mysterious "gifts of the Spirit" talked about in hushed tones - things like "interpretation", the ability to take a message delivered in "tongues" by someone else and translate it into an English message direct from God to those in the service; there was discernment and exorcism as well as baptism of adults by immersion in a water tank in front of the entire congregation.
To put it succinctly, there was a "cool" factor for a young person in attending the Pentecostal church, especially for someone finding his independence not only from his parents and other family members, but from the constraints of neighbourhood cliques and status groups.
Young people were highly valued in the Pentecostal church. In fact, at the same time I was establishing these new friendships, becoming immersed in music, attending a different high school with the "cool" and rich kids from across the city, the church had decided to build a brand new building on Anne Street. The church elders wanted the young people to help during the year or so when we moved to a temporary location on Collier Street, doing things like setting up and tearing down for Sunday evening services (those were the most exciting services of all!), and getting involved in using hammers and nails and assisting in the actual building of the new church.
So apart from the apparent disdain on my Father's side of the family for "holy rollers", the juxtaposition of music, excitement, independence, mystery, and most importantly, new friendships conspired to make the choice for Pentecostalism compelling.
(Next, college, university, betrayal, opportunity, and movement from the right to the liturgical centre.)