Today we learn about Gwen’s religious beliefs. I suspect many of my readers have been assuming that Gwen is Christian, but the attentive reader may wonder why there has so far been no mention of God. After all, we would expect a Christian Gwen to be praying about the situation, to rally the support of her church, and so forth, and none of this has happened.
Farris tells us that Gwen decided to take a walk and do some shopping while Gordon had Casey that Sunday. But in the end, Gwen didn’t feel like shopping and instead went right past the small shopping area and continued walking.
Two blocks past the Safeway, Gwen heard organ music coming from a small church on the corner of 29th & Arthur. “South Hill Bible Church,” the sign read. She had never noticed the name before. To her it had simply been the pink church, a color she always thought a very odd choice for a church.
She paused for a moment on the sidewalk. The hymn sounded vaguely familiar. Her parents had taken her to church three or four times a year during childhood, but she could not remember the last time she had been in church, other than for a wedding.
Gwen had attended a youth camp sponsored by Fourth Memorial Church when she was thirteen. Maybe we sang that song at camp, she thought. Gwen had walked an aisle and prayed a prayer of commitment. She had been really interested in God at that moment, but when she came back to town she never went to any church, and whatever was in her heart was lost in the sea of daily living during her teen years.
Maybe I should go inside and pray about the trial.
We learn a lot in these short paragraphs. Gwen grew up in a family that was nominally Christian and visited church a few times a year (presumably for things like Christmas and Easter), but not more than that. They didn’t read the Bible regularly (we assume) or spend time talking about God. God was sort of a granted, out there, but not something that significantly impacted their lives.Remember that evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t consider Christmas and Easter Christians actually saved. If you have been saved and are focused on Jesus, after all, your entire live—every waking moment—will show that commitment. This includes regular church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading.
But then there is also Gwen’s walking the aisle at camp. That is extremely significant. Given the way Farris describes it, it sounds like an actual conversion moment. But then, in some way, it didn’t take. Does Farris consider Gwen saved? I suppose we’ll have to wait until later in the book to find out, but many evangelicals and fundamentalists believe that one cannot lose their salvation, and that a conversion moment, even if the individual later backslides, is enough. Of course, others argue that if an individual later backslides, the conversion must not have been real, because no one who is truly saved can backslide. Again, I think we’ll find out Farris’s position later.
We learn next that Gwen considered whether her “cotton skirt, sleeveless white blouse and sandals” were appropriate attire for going into a church, but then she saw a woman dressed “pretty much as she was” walking into the church. Gwen decides to slip into the back, do some praying, and then slip out before anyone has a chance to speak with her.
I’m not entirely sure what the import of the discussion of clothing is. Is it to suggest that this Bible church is not frumpy or judgmental?
There was something pleasingly familiar about the bits of the service she heard in the twenty minutes she was inside. The singing and especially the first ten minutes of the sermon reminded her of the week at church camp fifteen years earlier. It was a happy time then and the memory brought a warm feeling.
Farris has established Gwen as open to God and open to church and Christianity, even if it is not currently a part of her life. I’m left to wonder about Gwen’s college years (if she’s a nurse, she must have gone to college). If Gwen’s conversion moment didn’t “take” and her life was full of daily concerns, did she party like Donna? Somehow, I doubt it. It seems as though Farris wants Gwen to be both a good, godly woman and fallen away from the church of her youth.