Barbara Vance, a great lady, rose above the fray
The writer is a former member of the Worldwide Church of God who attended Ambassador College in California and Texas in the 1960s. Mr. Vance owns and operates three businesses in the Tulsa, Okla., area: Sunbelt Beverage Parts (www.sunbeltbevparts.com), Sunbelt Sports Sales (www.sunbeltsports.com) and Sunbelt Sports Embroidery.
Barbara Vance's obituary appeared on page 17 of the May 31 issue of The Journal.
By Gary Vance
LAGUNA WOODS, Calif.--I'm writing this in my mother's residence in Southern California. My mother expired early on the morning of May 25.
She and two of her sons, Bruce and I, have been known to a great many "church people" over the years.
During the past few days since my sainted 89-year-old mother's passing, I've thought back on her life through the prism of her Church of God experience.
Breadwinner at 16
Mother was born Barbara Smith, the second oldest of seven, in Scotland in 1912, 21 days before the sinking of the Titanic. Her family relocated to Toronto, Canada, in the middle 1920s.
When she was 16 the family dispatched Mother to Illinois to work at the University of Chicago and send her wages back to Toronto to support her siblings.
In Illinois she married John Vance, who later became a police officer at Clark and Madison streets in downtown Chicago, which, coincidentally, was where Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong's office was when he was in the advertising business.
Mother and Father had four sons, John Jr., David, Bruce and Gary. We lived in Palos Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
Like virtually everybody else who came into the church in those days, she heard the Radio Church of God's World Tomorrow broadcast and then discussed what she was learning with her family.
Information about healing
In 1964 my father was stricken with stomach cancer, so my mother asked her sister-in-law, who lived in La Canada, Calif., to visit church headquarters and Ambassador College in nearby Pasadena to seek information about healing.
My aunt met Paul Royer. A short time later Joseph Tkach, a local elder who lived in Chicago, called and later anointed my dad.
As it turned out, another elder, Dean Blackwell, lived up the street from us. When my dad wasn't healed, and died, Dean performed the funeral ceremony.
My mother's extended Canadian family, visiting us at the time of Dad's funeral, was made up of entrenched and stalwart Baptists who found themselves fascinated with the engaging Messrs. Blackwell and Tkach in the discussions about the church's funerary beliefs.
In September 1965 Bruce was accepted to Ambassador College, Bricket Wood, England, and I was accepted to attend the campus in Pasadena. In 1966 I was transferred to the newest Ambassador campus, at Big Sandy, Texas.
In the summer of 1967, two weeks before my junior year, while home in Chicago for the summer, I attained the dubious distinction of being the only Ambassador student to be discharged from the school while on summer break. It seems that word of an overly infatuated local church girl got to the Pasadena upper echelon, and--without due process of any kind and based on rumors with absolutely no basis in fact--I got the old heave-ho.
Bruce graduated in 1968, married Aimee Stewart and entered the WCG ministry in the Detroit-Toledo area. He later broke in neophytes including Joe Tkach Jr. and Charles Groce and began working with several men incarcerated in Michigan prisons.
Bruce later became the only Worldwide minister to refuse a new employment contract in 1980 from Herbert W. Armstrong Corporation Sole (a legal entity formed after the church's 1979 run-in with the State of California) after the WCG ministry was terminated en masse from Mr. Armstrong's residence and office in Tucson, Ariz. (Most ministers were promptly rehired by the new corporate entity.)
Bruce was killed by a drunken driver in 1985 in Tulsa, Okla. He left three kids and Aimee, who has since remarried and lives in Kansas, as do all Bruce's children.
The WCG in its glory
My mother commented to me often over the years about how her listening to the broadcast led to her family's involvement in the church and college. She relocated to Southern California in 1971, during the heart of the glory years of the WCG (the '60s and '70s).
In those days there was the building fund for the colleges, as well as the visiting programs, high-ranking HQ speakers on the holy days, the ever-present "collision course" letters and numerous other church-related attitudes and activities that ran parallel with the lives of everyone in the church.
The ministry was loyal, intact and above reproach; the doctrines were unassailable; the church was built on a rock, not sand.
Throughout the upheavals in the church in the '80s and '90s, Mother never deviated in what she believed. She talked to my son, Gary Jr., in the '80s and '90s about her beliefs the same way she had spoken to me in the '50s and early '60s. She acted and behaved virtually the same, with integrity and dignity.
In my phone conversations with Mom in the last 20 years of her life, we often discussed the church and related subjects. But, because of the events of the last decade, as the subject of the church became more and more of a sore spot, we began avoiding the topic--although, as a charter subscriber to The Journal, she kept up with much of what was going on.
Kept in touch
Since Mom's death, only a few days ago, I've noticed while going through her papers, including letters and literature from various Church of God groups, that she had stayed in touch with the major "splits," although she had not been aligned with any one in particular and had not attended Sabbath services for many years.
She sent offerings to several COGs; she had respect for their efforts. But things for her were never as they had been in the good old days of the Worldwide Church of God.
A great lady
After I had traveled in mid-May to be with Mom during her last few days as she suffered from congestive heart failure and complications, I visited with and held the hand of a woman who never deviated in her core beliefs, behavior or beatitude, a woman who marshaled all her assets to fight for her husband's life in 1964, a woman who saw two sons go to Ambassador, a woman who maintained a close friendship with the first WCG member she ever knew (Joe Tkach Sr.).
Barbara Vance was one who always let you know where you stood. She was a great lady who wrote a thought-provoking letter to Garner Ted Armstrong many years ago when he was about to write his book The Real Jesus. (She imparted to GTA her thoughts concerning Jesus' "sweating blood," which can be read on The Journal's Web site, www.thejournal.org [please check back within the next few days and this link will be accessible].)
She was a woman who, like many of her Church of God fellows, never sowed contention or conflict but grew weary of it. She had heard the term "Ambassador quality" repeatedly applied to the college campuses, new buildings and fresh-faced young graduates and was later heartbroken at the revelations of the scandals that dribbled out of Pasadena over the years.
Those jarring communications concerned present and past church leaders and their behavior, present and past explanations of doctrine and present and past justifications of life-altering directives by the God-down leadership that in retrospect some members began to suspect might be the rantings and babblings of mere human beings puffed up by their own self-images.
My mother was a woman who at some point drew back and said enough already. Her capacity to process and deal with one glop of Church of God flummery on top of another had reached a critical mass and overloaded.
Overcoming the world wasn't difficult for my mother, but it was difficult to learn to live with the revelations, explanations and justifications the WCG, and then its derivatives, concocted to prove that Christ was in charge of it all.
She and the brethren had always heard that He led us, directed us and guided us and takes care of us as one body, one that could never fragment.
Indeed Christ would take us as one to wherever it was we were imagined to be going at any particular point in the WCG's history, whether it be the Kingdom, Petra or the gun lap.
His leaders, His ministers, had overcome Paul's handicap of existing as only the "least of the brethren" and took their place as the heroes who marched past and were applauded by the members on the curb.
Ultimately, sometime in the '80s, my mother stopped clapping and went back to the house. She could no longer abide the theorizings that justified every altercation, alternation and contrivance, the philosophical and theological leapings to and fro of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Did God call the Vances?
It is ironic to me that my mother eventually was officially classified as a "former member in good standing" of the old WCG.
After all, this was the same woman who had listened, believed and responded so faithfully to the church's pronouncements and teachings, who had requested prayers and anointing for her stricken husband, who watched her two youngest sons enter Ambassador College (which Roderick Meredith called the West Point of the Church of God), who listened to GTA's Feast sermon about me in '67 (holding me up as a bad example because he didn't like the toothpick in my mouth and the expression on my face) and who watched the ordination in 1968 of her son Bruce and his disillusioned exit from the WCG in 1980.
When I asked Mom a few days ago if she wanted to be anointed, she smiled and with a wry grasp of the ironic said she wouldn't know who to call or ask. That's when the irony for me came clear.
My mother never changed during the 53 years I knew her. She was redoubtable, tenacious and no hypocrite. Wasn't it those on the curb who once applauded who are the heroes, those who, with Mother, did not fall one inch away from their relationship with their Creator, even while they faded away from the shell of the church and its trappings?
In the end the only compromise I knew her to make, as probably many others have made, was to compromise her respect for those she once applauded.
It is all so sad.
The things that are left
I was privileged to know and belong to an excellent human being. I was greatly blessed to have been loved and trusted by Barbara Vance. If you had known her, you would know exactly what I mean.
I like to think my mother's life embodies what Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi meant when he said: "After the cheers have died and the stadium is empty, the enduring things that are left are the dedication to excellence, the dedication to victory and the dedication to . . . make the world a better place in which to live."
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