The town of Three Springs, PA is nestled in the mountains, an hour south of State College. People in Three Springs have dubbed State College “The Vatican of the Keystone State”. State College is home of Penn State University, and has always been known to be a progressively liberal town to people in places like Three Springs. When I was a child, I was aware that there was a gay bar in State College, but it meant nothing to me. When grownups talked about the queer village, it was rarely in a positive manner.
Unlike the Catholic Church with priests of the pedophile cloth, Protestants in Three Springs have already washed their hands of the child molestation scandal that took place in a locker room just over the mountain. They sing church hymns with a certain ‘Old Rugged Cross’ drag in Sunday school. Gayness and the attraction of grown men to young boys is an issue that parishioners of the First Baptist Church rather not think of during the Sunday sermon, especially when the church bulletin announces upcoming Advent events including a Christmas Eve church play of the Nativity scene and the topic of family values lined up as the topic for the morning sermon.
Baptists in Three Springs still submerge those seeking repentance of sins, fully underwater; a pool located behind the pulpit is cleared of plastic Christmas decorations this time of year, and Holy Water of sorts is pumped in from the Three Springs reservoir then heated, and young boys and girls put on gowns, walk down a tiny set of stairs and are dunked by Pastor David Chevy holding their noses. There is nothing inappropriate about the tradition.
In the 1980’s there was still no running water inside the 100 year- old church. When sins were washed from me during Easter of 1984, the volunteer fire department of Three Springs had to come to the house of God with a truck and fill the Baptismal pool. The water was not crystal clear; there was a sense that one was meeting John the Baptist when entering the brown waters and falling into Pastor Chevy’s arms. Pastor Chevy rarely was seen without his thick glasses. His aura had changed when he took them off and caused my moment of purification to be remembered as a moment of total shock.
Pastor Chevy once gave a sermon touching on the subject of homosexuality at the start of the AIDS crisis. His words, somehow pulled from the pages of the Old Testament, frightened me terribly. During a school trip to the Nation’s Capital, I was terrified of catching the ‘punishing virus’ put here by God because I was one of the few who actually listened to Pastor Chevy’s sermons.
Although still a virgin at 14, I knew the lust for men that was in my heart was as real as the Virgin Birth. I was sure I was gay too because when I had thoughts that were not pure; my imaginings were always of men. It was in my nature. I was destined to catch the deadly bug, I figured, so I would not drink from public water fountains while visiting Washington.
Pastor Chevy ran a youth group in the church. Young Three Springs Christians, still wet behind the ears, caroled in December and distributed fruit baskets to the elderly who were often deaf, which shielded them from our out-of-tune hymns and terrible singing voices.
During a Baptist Youth Fellowship meeting, Pastor Chevy decided that we needed to elect a president of our ‘BYF’ group. We were handed small pieces of paper, and just like at the Vatican, we wrote the name of whom we wished to elect. Pastor Chevy pulled the pieces of paper from an empty coffee can and read out each name– my name was repeated more than a dozen times, as a matter of fact, no other names were read by Pastor Chevy that day. Pastor Chevy laughed and looked at me– “You even voted for yourself,” he commented.
I didn’t think the election was funny. Had I lost, I may have become a Baptist Preacher, but instead I washed myself of the idea of becoming a preacher, besides, as far as I was concerned, I would die from AIDS before I ever finished college at a place like Penn State.