Enjoying 35 Years POST-WCG

Mark Manning
February, 2011

New note added 2/26/11

In the event someone I know from my early years, maybe an AC friend, happens to go back to read my posts here, I wanted to say a cheerful “Hello” and encourage you to make contact, if my entries here are not too upsetting.  I’m also on facebook, so go there if you prefer.

Now the original post:

Prior to my comments, I want to encourage folks to watch the video James  placed on the PT Home page: Karen Armstrong’s Golden Rule message.
She is NOT a part of “Armstrongism” but a British scholar and religion historian.

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A respected friend from my college days at AC, Big Sandy, recently gave me some sage advice: “If I were you, I would just forget all this drama and keep moving forward.” Of course, I am inclined that way and will certainly continue moving forward after a brief detour into the HWA,WCG blogosphere. My friend pointed out that my life has been good since I left all the CoG business behind, and I agree. However, as a humanist, I cannot refuse to at least try to be of help to my fellow humans. Perhaps other lives could improve.

It is quite possible that I do not belong on this blog. Then again, after much recent reading here and on other fall-out blogs, I see that my words might be of value to a few. I am both shocked and fascinated as I scan so many websites devoted to the Armstrong phenomenon. Scanning is about all I can do to cover only a small part of probably millions of words on the subject adrift in the ether. So quite naturally, I will add more! However, noted blogger Greta Christina advises to keep it brief; I will do so.
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In 1963, the Radio Church of God became my entire world. (That moment “a light went on in my head,” as described by Donal from Ireland in his recent letter to the editor, happened for me at eighteen and fresh out of high school. I gave my youthful best years to “the work.”) This past fact is what today links me to others reading and writing here. When I was approached by the PT editor who wondered whether I might make a contribution, I simply replied that having suffered virtually not at all after my departure from all WCG contact, I may not be helpful in any way to this readership. But I will offer what I can.

My maiden name (!) was Salyer. So when I say “departure from all WCG contact,” I mean contact with a church group. My relationship with my brother Larry has, over the long haul, not suffered fatally from the complete severing of our “spiritual bonds.” Our worldviews are now worlds apart, but we maintain personal contact and we respect each other as individuals with individual rights and interests.

About the name change – as I told James, I have never been in hiding! My name was not changed to protect the guilty, it was simply a name not conducive to inter-action with the world at large. Within the confines of that small organization in which Larry and I had become known, I never ran into anyone who couldn’t spell or pronounce my last name. Immediately following my exit from the WCG, I was amazed to find that the name presented a challenge to many people I met. The first time “Salyer” was printed in a program for a play in which I appeared, it was spelled “Slayer.” Not helpful to someone hoping to become known on stage or in television and film! So I chose “Manning” as a comfortable stage name to go along with Mark, which I’ve always liked as my given name. After it became clear in the early 1980s that I would have a career in the acting profession, I made the new name legal. That’s it. I’ve even clarified this on my facebook profile.

[Note: I didn’t glom on to a famous name! There was no hint in 1979 of the fame the two Manning quarterbacks would bring to the name later. Their father, Archie, had also been an NFL quarterback prior to this, but he played for the hapless Saints who blossomed much later.]

Following four years at AC in Texas (1964-68), I was sent to Amarillo, TX as a ministerial assistant and some months later ordained as an elder. Ordination to “preaching elder” in 1971 made it possible for me to be sent to “raise up” a new congregation in Wichita Falls, TX in 1972, taking over also the responsibility for Abilene, TX and a bible study group in Lawton, Oklahoma. Fort Worth, TX and Chicago (south) were to be my later assignments.

After more than twelve years of devotion and service in the WCG, I resigned my pastorate and made my personal declaration of independence on our nation’s bicentennial day, Saturday, July 4, 1976. I recall the specific details because I gave the sermon that day and then revealed to the congregation that it was, by choice, my last day as their pastor. My departure then was with honor; I had no gripes to air and took no one else with me. Indeed, I wanted no part in guiding anyone; that’s why I left! I was to be, in Ron Dart’s words, a “lay minister,” invited to speak here and there when practical – was even asked to lead songs at that fall’s FoT. But I declined invitations and stopped attending any services because I was simply not interested any longer in religion.

I mention the above details because it has likely been assumed I was part of, or even one of the instigators of, the “falling away” that took place in the mid 1970s. Not so, and the point is of no major consequence. However, I need to say here that in slogging through the blogs during the final week of 2010, I was surprised to read that an estimated 70 ministers and 11,000 members left WCG in 1974. I was not aware the numbers were anywhere close to that reported.

Interestingly, I never pursued more information at the time even though it was in 1974 that my brother Larry and I were told to stow our small children somewhere and take our wives with us to work for an unspecified time in Washington D.C.  Ours was “not to reason why…” We were taken to a kind of “mission control office” and settled into rooms in a hotel where Wayne Cole and Dean Blackwell were ensconced. From there we traveled to services, meetings, bible studies, homes – wherever we were directed, and “rescued lambs” left astray by some renegade ministers. We stayed in the D.C. region for perhaps four weeks.

My wife and I were sent into Richmond, VA and Buffalo, NY, to name two cities I recall from the speaking schedule. Quite frankly, I knew little of any similar happenings in other areas of the country. Until now, I was never aware that more than four or five ministers had left and I thought our little team had heroically “saved” the flock! [You cannot imagine how surreal all this sounds to my own ears as I read it back now!] My wife and I were allowed to return to Ft. Worth for the time being but asked to consider Richmond as a new pastorate. Somehow I found the guts to decline then, but within a year, the headquarters team decided (without asking this time) that I would be moved to Chicago (south) in 1975.

By spring of 1976 I had lost interest in riding a train to nowhere and resigned in July.
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The “shock” I mentioned in the opening has to do with my thirty-five years of total and peaceful disinterest, jarred by this recent introduction to so much written material available on what I considered a tiny and minimal-impact sliver of the world’s religion pie. And I had tossed out the whole pie as unfit-for-human-consumption! Many of you who are contributing to this body of commentary have obviously not walked away unscathed as easily as I did, and I am sorry to see that a website about pain is needed. I am also sorry to have been unaware of a possible chance to help anyone who might find in my chosen world sans religion a way to move forward painlessly. One post-Armstrong blog comment I noticed said, “Welcome to the asylum.” I’d prefer to welcome folks out of it! Maybe you too can find a way to douse that counter-productive, blinding light in your head and wake up to the real light outside – the light of a brand new day in a far bigger world.

Since I very well may be a bore to your blog, I am wrapping this up now with the offer to contribute more if it’s desired. Seeing the way Dick Armstrong’s writing was received/not received, I simply don’t care to insert myself into some ongoing discussion where my views on life would not be productive. Much can be said from my vantage point and much of it might be considered outrageous. However, there is a chance a few of my thoughts could be of help to someone, so I make myself available to write more if and when requested to do so.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark [Salyer] Manning