A Generic Journey through
By Joe A.C.
It was the end of the 1970's when I arrived at what many of us thought was "God's College". Remember those days? We were constantly hearing about how the church was being put "Back on the Track". All of those supposedly evil liberal ministers were now gone and "no longer with us", as it was taboo to openly say their names in public. The chaos was supposedly over. The grounds and buildings looked so clean. I honestly thought at that time that I had arrived at the embassy of God's Kingdom on this earth! The one place where God's laws were kept and the Holy Spirit was everywhere in abundance! Never in my whole life was I happier in my own bliss. Never in my whole life was I more blind.
At the request of a few friends of mine I was asked to write a few notes on some of the things I saw while I attended A.C. I am not a professional writer and have no interest in becoming one. Nor was I in any inside circles to see the worst of the dirt going on in the late 1970's and early 1980's. I was not a student leader (very few of us were), nor a rebel (often the same students that became the leaders). Just a very average Joe A.C. It was many years later I stumbled into a pile of "dissident literature" I started to finally see how the crazy place worked.
Applying to A.C. was something I did on a whim. I was involved with my local Worldwide Church of God Y.O.U. and had interests in God like a lot of other teens, but for some reason I applied. And I got accepted. Must have been before the crunch when young people in the Worldwide Church of God started applying to A.C. in droves. I sat in many A.C. class lectures, forums and assemblies listening to high ranking faculty members chew us out into becoming better students, reminding us of how many hundreds of applicants were out there wanting to take our places. The student forums and assemblies were held every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 11:00 AM. Although there was no class credit given and attendance was technically not required, we all had to turn in these computer attendance cards or we would be in trouble. To this day I don't have a clue for any good reason we had those forums and assemblies except to make sure we were all controlled.
The word "perspective" can mean a lot of things. For a photographer or artist it can make or break that winning advertisement. For a mechanical engineer it means getting the right information to the machinist. A basketball player needs that perfect jump shot. At A.C. it meant that everyone was constantly envying everyone else.
I remember talking to a young minister and his wife at church services. At that time I really looked up to them, thinking they were the ultimate in personal success. They were looking at me with envy because of all the overseas projects that students were being sent to at the time. The Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) was in its heyday in those last few years HWA was alive.
I used to envy the students who were being sent to those AICF projects. It was always the same small circle of students who were lucky or spiritual enough to be selected every summer. And it wasn't that the lucky names were just printed up some place. The announcements for selection of student leaders, dorm monitors, who got sent to the Worldwide Church of God's big summer camp in Orr, Minnesota, or the AICF overseas projects were made with great fanfare and showmanship. A forum or assembly would begin with a long slide show presentation or movie showing us how wonderful it would be to be selected to go to what ever place they were talking about. Students who had already been on those expeditions were hailed as heroes in front of the rest of us. Finally the announcements were made. The lucky students were selected. To this day I can still hear students saying "ooh!...ahh!" as various names were being read at the end of the big show. Just like any cheap TV game show. Thailand, Israel, Scotland. I guess they could get the same excitement from students being sent to perform slave labor in salt mines in Antarctica, if the AICF had any projects there. It didn't matter. If you were selected, you were a winner and you got to hear your name announced in front of everyone else.
Does anyone remember those Young Ambassador Feast Films? With students gleefully dancing and jumping around the bushes, to show what a happy place A.C. was? And there was this dork in a bird suit thinking he was funny? I get a headache to think HWA was weird enough to like those films and therefore WE had to like them. Those students who were members of the Young Ambassadors would work all summer in Pasadena to get those films ready in time for the Feast of Tabernacles, shooting the same takes over and over. I was watching some out takes with a few friends of mine once. This one guy in a costume was screaming, "I have two friends of mine spending the summer in Minnesota, a dorm-mate is going to Thailand, and what am I doing? I am stuck HERE, making a STUPID MOVIE!"
There was so much concern in the air about our "success at Ambassador College" I get sick to even think about it. Never mind that our "college career" was a lousy two to four years. It was something of a frenzy. No one wants to be a loser. But by the end of your first year the faculty pretty much had our futures mapped out for us in their little files they kept on each student. Who was going to pastor a church, who will likely serve as a local church elder some day, or who was going to be a total bum. A student leader would give mediocre speeches in Ambassador/Spokesman Club and the ministerial/faculty overall evaluator would carry on how great this guy was. A friend of mine was devastated by a high ranking faculty member cutting him down for lack of leadership ability. Never mind the fact that this same student started a number of successful small companies once he left A.C. I knew talented young women with tears in their eyes for being turned down for the Young Ambassadors just because they were not deemed pretty enough. Another guy I knew was so uptight about his appearance he ironed his underwear. I once had a childhood friend who arrived to A.C. the same time I did. He made it very clear to me he did not have time for a loser like me once he got there. It became no surprise to me that the prick became a minister. Such was the atmosphere at "God's College". Such was the environment in which the ministerial "servants" of the Worldwide Church of God were educated.
Of course there was the usual crap going on in Pasadena among ranking ministers. Stories about dirty office politics. Since I was lucky enough to be low enough of a pawn to be oblivious to most of what went on, I think it best to leave writing about the crap to others. But I will add that it was no secret among all of us who the biggest assholes were.
Perhaps the most miserable of all was none other that Herbert W. Armstrong himself. During his last years he managed to invite us students to his home for a formal dinner in groups of a dozen or so at a time. To this day I have never experienced such an incredibly fancy meal. We would all walk into his home, spellbound to be in the presence of such a man. The stories were true about gold table wear, and I don't think the champagne was cheap either. What struck me about the whole evening was how he just went on and on about how sexually unfulfilling his first marriage was, and how devastating his second marriage became. He just kept saying, "Don't marry for sex, or you will be miserable". Here was the man we all looked up to, God's "Apostle", the ultimate in personal success, prestige, and financial abundance seemed to be the most unhappy man of all. He looked back at the end of his own long life and just couldn't get enough of the sex he wanted.
As the years went on I lost interest in the Worldwide Church of God. Haven't attended in years. And strangely my growth and understanding of God and religion is clearer than ever. Getting away from a lot of small minded ministers who intimidate and control you can do that. Looking back now at the things I saw twenty years ago, I still have mixed feelings. I don't feel qualified to judge or condemn any individual or the Worldwide Church of God as a whole. I was lucky enough to not be as personally burned as many others I knew. I simply saw the Worldwide Church of God for what it was and walked away.
I hear that the Big Sandy campus has been sold, and they are soon to sell off Pasadena. I recently took a trip to California and visited the old Pasadena campus just to see how the place looked. The place was empty and not maintained the way it used to be. Ambassador Hall has a big crack in it from the 1994 earthquake, but no one has bothered to fix it years later. The little cascading stream below has bright blue-dyed water in it to kill the algae. They used to have a crew to scrub this artificial stream out once a month or so. I am not sure what is to become of the local congregation that meets there every week. With luck they too will have their eyes opened and leave the Worldwide Church of God as so many of the rest of us have.
Once in a while I get my hands on recent copies of the Worldwide News. New Theology. More layoffs. They want to be seen as such nice guys now, but I get the impression they still want to somehow resurrect the tithing doctrine. It was the tithing doctrine that did the most damage to so many of us in the first place! No matter what theology, the Worldwide Church of God is still run by a gang of total idiots.
I hear about a number of "splinter groups". Funny how so many of these same ministers who strongly preached so much against division were the same leaders who tore the Worldwide Church of God into pieces. Each splinter seems to be headed by an egomaniac that would make a rock star or politician look humble. At least the rock stars have talent, and most politicians have real educations.
I still believe there is a God. A God who laughs his head off at us. A God that never needed the Worldwide Church of God but, for some who faithfully believed, provided a chance to somehow live better lives in their own eyes even if extremely low on cash. Please don't get me wrong. I knew some good people. Far too few good people in the ministry, sad to say. For the most of the ministers I have known, service was not a priority compared to a selfish drive to succeed in a very corporate atmosphere. I believe in a God who got tired of a church and ministry who didn't love enough, and decided to let it die out.
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