Holy Rollers and the End of Sunday School

green, grassy field surrounded by darker green evergreens and lighter green bushes. The wooden chapel is out in the distance with a peaked roof and a spire.

Since I went down memory lane with She’s dead to me, and phrases I’d “never heard before,” I thought I’d regale you with a story I heard my freshman year of college. I worked multiple times jobs while I was in college, one of them at a restaurant. The later the night, the wilder or more personal the stories became.

Clears throat: off-color and inappropriate.

A group of us were talking about churches. Whether or not we went and did we like it? Where did we go? What started out as a philosophical discussion on religious upbringing with children took a turn to the colorful side with one bartender’s tale.

This is her story about going to church with their new neighbors and how that all ended–abruptly.

Church window similar to something in my childhood neighborhood. Image by Kim Newberg from Pixabay

She was telling us that her parents liked to party and weren’t big fans of getting up on Sundays but also felt it was important for their kids to go to church. So what a stroke of luck when they moved into a new neighborhood and some friendly neighbors noticed that they weren’t attending church, offering to take the kids with them and to Sunday school afterward.


Winner-winner. Kids get church and parents get sleep and a partially free Sunday.

Fast forward a few weeks or months (that part I can’t remember) when this woman and her brother were playing “church” in their room. They would raise their hands and praise the Lord while taking turns shouting “be healed,” slapping each other upon the forehead. They’d roll around on the ground, causing a general ruckus. Between the physical drama of falling from the bunk beds and ecstatic shouting, their mom decided to check in on them.

The woman told us, “Mom peeked through the door and caught us play acting ‘church.’ She burst into the room shouting, ‘No more church!’ She didn’t know these neighbors were holy rollers. So that was the end of us going to church.”

Me, naive and gullible eighteen-year old at the time, asked what’s wrong with that church? She must’ve said “holy rollers” a handful of times during her story and I took it as the name of the church.

Yes, I thought it was odd, but again, naive.

I can’t remember the elaborate beginning of this story where we heard descriptions of the neighbors, her parents, the church…

But, yeah.

Holy roller–I hadn’t heard that term before. I’d read and watched film depictions of what she was describing, but I just didn’t make the connection at the time. I was so entranced by this story, especially by the part of being pawned off on neighbors they barely knew.

She was also a good story teller with a husky voice honed by alcohol and cigarettes. Her story was probably one of the sparks for my later smattering of classes and research in college and grad school on sectarians–however, that’s for another time.

I was fascinated by her story as it wasn’t my reality. I grew up with middle-class Norwegians and Scandinavians. When I went to church with friends, that wasn’t my reality. It was quiet, for starters, and it was clear who “belonged” and who didn’t. It wasn’t the free-for-all that she described. Growing up in that little section of town, it felt like there really was only the generic “protestant.” That’s it.

It was homogenous. It took college to really broaden my experiences. I haven’t looked back.

But, holy rollers. Boy, does that term give me a chuckle.

Give me a shoutout! 🤠

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