Praise the Lord!  

Monday, March 24, 2008

I recently received an email from a member of The Herd about Jim Bakker preaching again on television. It generated a lot of emotions in me and brought back a lot of memories.

The article made me wonder what had happened to the place. I remember trying to visit after college, but I was turned away at the guard station. Searching on the internet I came across Standing But Not Operating,* a website documenting abandoned parks. The pictures were familiar and disturbing. Since then haven't been able to get the place out of my mind. I've dreamed about it several nights.

So I thought, for therapy, maybe I should post a little about my experience. I have no idea where this is going. I just feel the need to write about it.

My parents moved to Charlotte, NC when I was five to be involved in the Praise the Lord ministries. Off and on it was a large part of my childhood. I went to school there. My mom worked for them in a couple of different capacities. I worked at Heritage USA when I was in high school. Some of the best times I had were days I spent working in Recreation Village.

Mom worked in the mail room right after our move. She read letters and collected donations from viewers. The office building was at the site of Billy Graham's childhood home. Later, when I worked for IBM when I was in college I worked in the same office building. There was a plaque dedicated to Graham outside, but the house had been moved or demolished long before the office building was built.

Thinking about my mom working there seems odd. What did she think about when she was reading the letters and receiving the donations? I know she believed in the ministry, but were there ever any doubts? Did she ever feel odd about it? I might have to ask for her side of the story sometime soon.

Later the ministry moved to the Heritage USA property. I think they set up in the back lot or maybe the barn. I'm not clear. Because my mom was an employee we were able to attend school for free, or maybe there was some kind of discount. I was in first grade and I don't remember all of the details. Yet another thing to bring up with my mom when I see her next.

Both my brothers, my sister, and I all attended the school out at the Heritage USA property in cabins (much like this cabin), which would eventually become Recreation Village. My cabin was shared between kindergarten and the first grade. We had a divider down the middle of the cabin. There were only 10 or so students per grade.

I loved my teacher. Our class was divided into groups and we'd rotate between subjects - Math, English (reading and penmanship), and social studies. Our class also learned French while the kindergarten class learned Spanish. I don't remember any of the French. We might have been in some sort of PACE program because I remember finishing the first grade Math text and the teacher let me work in the second grade text.

The swimming pool was right next to our cabin, but I never remember swimming in it. I'm not sure where we went for lunch. We must have eaten packed lunches in our classrooms or outside on the picnic tables on nice days.

The picture above is from Tommy and James Home Page. Click the picture to go to their site. The cabin I had class in is just to the right, not shown. We used to play on the shuffle board. I'm not sure if the miniature golf course was installed at that time.

Mostly I remember being happy. It was typical for me to be in a small school and I had a best friend who I shared everything with. It was a beautiful setting and I didn't think too much about what the place stood for.

After first grade we went back to public school. I'm not sure why exactly we didn't continue in the school. Maybe it was shut down due to funding or maybe my mom changed jobs and it was no longer cheap. It was a long drive from our house, so maybe logistically it just didn't work out.

PTL would not factor in my life again for a few years.

*All of the pictures linked are from the Standing But Not Operating website. And they tell the tale of abandonment much better than I ever could. Next time I visit my parents I might try to stop by if they allow visitors in any capacity and see if I can document more clearly my memories.

P.S. This is my 500th post!

Update April 26: I found this picture on the HeritageUSA Yahoo message board. The cabin on the right at the far end (farthest away) is where I went to first grade, as far as I can remember anyway.

Read the other parts of the my story

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7 comments: to “ Praise the Lord!

  • The Exterminator
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 3:50:00 PM CDT  

    Looking at those pictures of the rundown PTL property, I'm reminded of Shelley's Ozymandias."

    I'm really looking forward to further reminiscences about this.

    In the meantime, here are some questions:
    Did you and your sibs ever watch the PTL on TV? Did you think that Jim and Tammy Faye were big stars? If so, did you ever wonder why they were different from other television fare?

    Did you feel as if you were involved in something "important" for humanity? In other words, did you, personally, have any sense that your family and others like yours were on a mission?

  • Ordinary Girl
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 4:02:00 PM CDT  

    Ex, Ozymandias is a fitting comparison.

    Did you and your sibs ever watch the PTL on TV?
    Yes, I know I did. In a kid kind of way it really wasn't that often. I had Tammy Faye albums from the puppet show too that I used to listen to. I wish I had them now, but I'd have no way to listen to see what intrigued me as a kid.

    Did you think that Jim and Tammy Faye were big stars?
    Not really. I thought of them more as preachers with a fancy studio.

    Did you ever wonder why they were different from other television fare?
    But they really weren't much different than Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, or Pat Robertson. You know, my television fare was pretty limited. Sometimes I got to watch Little House on the Prairie or Looney Tunes.

    Did you feel as if you were involved in something "important" for humanity?
    No. In fact, it wasn't until I started reading up about the place recently that I even realized how popular it was back in the day. It was never a big deal until the scandal broke and television crews started showing up.

    In other words, did you, personally, have any sense that your family and others like yours were on a mission?
    No more than any other Christian. it was largely an entertainment complex for Christians and in that sense I didn't feel like there was anything special for humanity. It wasn't as if we were giving out food to the starving or homes to the homeless. This was a prosperity-focused religion. It was all about reaping the good that was due to Christians.

  • the chaplain
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 6:25:00 PM CDT  

    Fascinating post. Nice exchange between you and Ex too. Thanks.

    Some of my relatives went to Heritage USA back in the day and raved about how wonderful it was. They were the ones that leaned more fundy/charismatic than the rest of us. I think their TV viewing was just as limited as yours was, OG.

    The Bakkers always creeped me out. So did Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. I guess I drank some of the kool-aid but didn't swallow every drop.

  • aprilbapryll
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 6:26:00 PM CDT  

    There's one of those "entertainment complexes for Christians" here, and it's called Idlewild. We make reference to them as the culties all the time, and the Crazy Christians ... and my husband's best friend's mother is one of them. Now that they've built a compound outside of the city we really find them to have real cult status ... Oh, and we're also in spitting distance of the lovely church of Scientology in all its glory. Tampa is an interesting area, I guess ;-)

  • handmaiden
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 6:58:00 PM CDT  

    My ex-husband was "saved" watching Jim & Tammy's PTL television show*. I used to make horrible fun of it, myself.

    He felt very betrayed by them when the scandal broke out. I thought it was a good opportunity for him & other gullible christians to see the light, so to speak.

    I happened to see Jim Bakker & his new wife attempt to do one of their new religious broadcasts. It was pathetic & I didn't get the impression he'd learned a thing in prison. Tammy on the other hand fared a lot better I thought.

    *my ex also watches "Days of Our Lives" religiously. :)

  • Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D.
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 8:59:00 PM CDT  

    Happy 500th post

  • the chaplain
    Monday, March 24, 2008 at 10:40:00 PM CDT  

    500 posts! Holy smokes! Congratulations.


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