Mom had a falling out with the Presbyterian Church after our move to St. Davids, and especially with the pastor, Rev. John T. Galloway, whose son, John, was in my class at Radnor. She complained that nobody in the church was there with help when she and Dad needed it; but rather, during the years of his drinking, they all had avoided our family. Consequently, while my sister Judy and I continued Sunday School, and Mom sometimes went simultaneously to church, Dad himself never went except for Easter and Christmas Eve, and Jack and Chuck were always allowed to sleep late on Sundays‑‑or at least they were at an age where their refusals to get up had to be respected, where Judy's and mine were not.
My oldest brother Jack wasn't irreligious, the way my brother Chuck became bitterly later (viewing the church as an institution for the self‑congratulation of haves). Jack just wasn't interested in getting dressed up and going through the pomp of being seen there, in the Henry family pew, in the church that Great Grandpop Henry had helped to found and build, and the second lectern of which Nana Henry had donated in Grandpop's memory.
I was surprised to see perhaps six or ten kids in my class at Radnor in Sunday school. Among them were Kit Wilkes, Barby Spillman, Sue Shellenberger, Ann Palmer, Rick Skillman, Wendy Trout. Other kids, like Pete Allen, John Barnett, and Howard Hopson were Baptists, and this troubled me; and still others, Episcopalians, which was almost like being Catholic; and then the rest were Catholics, religiously beyond hope, believing in Popes, Cardinals, Nuns, and even "graven images." With no Jewish classmates at Radnor at all, I remained largely unaware of this particular difference until coming to know my freshman roommate at Amherst, along with other Jewish classmates and teachers in college.
I found grown‑up Church boring, and kept searching the program to see when one part would be over and how close the end was. The building itself was all heavy stone, which made it cool in summer, with high arching ornate rafters, lights hanging on chains, and stained glass windows depicting various stories in the old and new testaments. The windows were beautiful, with their primary colors and lead seams, like a jigsaw puzzle, especially when direct sunlight cast through them and projected their colors inside. Then there was a stage in front, with choir boxes on either side, big organ pipes, the organ to the left, and two raised stone pulpits, one on either side. Up front and down the aisles, the carpeting was maroon and deep; the pews were a polished mahogany with cushions and racks in the back with Bibles and hymnals.
Near my twelfth birthday, I was lined up with my peers in front of the congregation; we recited the Apostles' Creed, and were each given a new Bible with our name embossed in gold on the leather cover.
From that point on, Sunday mornings became a matter of contention and suspense, whether I must get up, dress up, eat, and go, or whether late sleeping, apathy, or rebellion would prevail. Not only my brothers, but my sister began rebelling, not liking the content of Church or its social life, given her own crowd; and gradually, Mom's attempts to encourage Church as a regular, important thing, gave way.
When we did go as a family for the big holiday services, we paraded in, Mom and Dad smiling at the world, with maybe a hard hand squeeze or stop‑fooling look for one of us, and each of us dressed at our best, Mom wearing gloves, perfumed, Dad finely groomed and in his tailored suit, and we would sit and sing together, and I would lose my voice in surprising harmony of many flawed or mumbling voices, along with, now and again, a purity of real singing, like Mom's, which was close enough to hear, or sometimes Dad's deep base. We would each be given money for the offering, not too much or too little, as if neighbors would know as the plate was passed on. This was a silver plate with a velvet liner, an usher or deacon would start it down each row, while heads were bowed, then another would get it at the other end and empty the contents into a velvet sack on a stick, and the entire collection would end up on the altar up front, to be blessed by Dr. Galloway and celebrated by a singing of the Doxology. When the service was over at last, there would be a prayer of benediction, all heads bowed, eyes closed and down, during which the organ played gently, and Dr. Galloway scooted down the aisle to the back. A burst of joyous recessional music, we'd all stand, and Dr. Galloway would be at the door shaking hands goodbye to each family filing out. He would have some special recognition for us: "My, my, the Henrys! Good to see you back! Haven't seen you for some time! Don't see you enough!" Once I made a sarcastic comment about his sermon, like, "Too bad he couldn't make it longer" or "He's never seen a poor person," and Mom shushed me because he had overheard, but pretended not to have.
Then, at the oddest off times during the year, he would appear, awkwardly, some evening, at our front door at home. He would come in and be stiffly entertained, cup of coffee, plate of cookies or cake, sitting on the living room couch. Why had we been missing Church?
After he left we'd mock and laugh at him behind his back. Of course, he did always leave with a renewed, generous pledge for the year, which Dad insisted on giving.
Meanwhile at dinner we collectively discussed the hypocrisy of organized religion, the social gospel that had replaced any moral urgency, psychology, Paul Tillich, and the other new religious philosophers of the Fifties, whom Mom read in connection with her work with Dad’s psychiatrist, Dr. Appel. By no accident my term paper senior year in high school‑‑the writing sample that helped to get me admitted to college‑‑would be on comparative religion, with the thesis that no one religion was right, that each had its dogmas, and each, rather than embodying "truth," embodied a kind of necessary fiction.
Dad was upset, when, at fifteen or sixteen, I printed my personal Christmas card in the basement and handed them out at school: "Happy Commercial Holiday, from An Agnostic."