When I was in high school, on Wednesday nights I went to Acteens meetings at my church. My friend Caroline, who grew up in the church of Christ, told me that Acteens was completely bizarre and hilarious and disturbing all at the same time and that I should write about it. I guess when I think about it, it was kind of weird but I’ve never thought of it as outright against nature.
Acteens is the southern Baptist church’s missions program for teenaged girls. They meet on Sunday or Wednesday nights and any girl can be in it between the grades of seven and twelve. You have meetings once a week and there’s some kind of program, we all took turns presenting some topic, like not being stuck up and about hair and make up and shopping and cooking so you can be a good wife, crap like that. The important part was the book. The book contained lists of projects that had to be completed within a year’s time, all of which had to do with missions. Making maps of Paul’s mission trips using grocery bags with the edges burned so they look like antique parchment, trips to nursing homes to feed old people ice cream, creating prayer calendars for missionaries so a different one can be prayed for daily (this is stored under your bed where you will never think of it again until you graduate from college and are cleaning out your childhood bedroom getting ready to move into your first apartment and the missionaries are likely martyrs by that point. What? It happens.)
So you can choose from the book which projects you want to do and of course everyone picks the easy, fast ones because everyone waits until one month before the coronation to start on them. And naturally the coronation is the whole point.
Coronation. Right. Well, there are five levels one can reach as an Acteen: Queen, Queen with Scepter, Queen Regent, Queen Regent in Service and Service Aide. When I was coming through the youth group, only Jodi Campbell had ever achieved Service Aide, and she was something of a legend in the church. She was super Christian, a leader in every youth program in the church, marrying in college and starting her family by 21 like a good Baptist girl should. Most of us just made it to Queen Regent. With each of these levels came, uh, stuff. Queens received a tiara. Next step was a scepter. Then a cape (at my church they were elbow length, emerald green and white satin with gold tassel ties). Queen Regent in Service got a pin that was attached to her cape (for you had to wear each item accumulated in following coronations) and then Service Aides got, I don’t know, breakfast with Jesus or something. Cause they’re so hoooooly.
Every church had the leeway to conduct its ceremony any way it wanted. And each year in the Acteens magazine, you could look at pictures of what other churches did. At my church it was painful because you had to have an escort take you down the aisle at the church, so you had to ask a boy to do this. Usually we chose from the Royal Ambassadors (the guy version of Acteens) or some other guy from the youth group. But of course you had to be careful to indicate to the guy that you weren’t in love with him or anything, you just needed an escort. Or if you were in love with him, you had to make it seem like you just needed an escort. The timing, vocabulary and nuance was all very complicated. And if you were painfully inept with boys like me, it was torture. Then you had to buy the guy a thank you gift. I think I gave mine cologne, the though of which is now so painfully embarrassing that I can hardly bring myself to think upon it. So moving on…
You also needed a ring bearer because whatever trinket you were receiving that year had to be carried in a fancy pillow by a small child, like you were getting married. To our Lord I suppose. And there was a gift to be given to them. Then you had to have a solid white dress like a catholic. When all of this had been settled, we’d line up in the vestibule with church members in the sanctuary to witness this spectacle, and the trumpet players in the church orchestra would do some gay fanfare and then the organist would kick in and the ring bearer followed you and your escort down the aisle. Upon reaching the pulpit, each girl would report on one project she had chosen to do to complete her current level. Then one of the Acteens leaders would come up, take whatever prize you were receiving from the squirming kid, place it on your head/wrap it around your shoulders/hand it to you, whatevs, and then more trumpets as you took a seat and waited for all the other girls to finish. Then the whole thing concluded the way all southern Baptist gatherings do, with a hymn and food. Mothers gave daughters gifts (except for mine, whom I had to command to bring one so I wouldn’t look like a loser) and then all that was left to do was wait for the pictures to be developed. I actually have some, and they always make me laugh every time I find them. I only have photos from my first coronation though because the second year I was so mortified at the prospect of having to find an escort (I think the only guys I would have even considered were already taken) that I called the leader and lied about missing the ceremony because I had to go on vacation with my parents. Which was true, I did, but I could have made the ceremony. I still have my cape and scepter somewhere, although the fake tiara rhinestones all turned black and fell out so I think I threw that out years ago.