This is a difficult topic to broach because, especially today, many people are focused on the ways we are (or try to be) inclusive, rather than the ways in which we exclude others. While I never experienced serious rifts within my close family or places of work, there was one wall of separation I was cognizant of during my time in High School. At first I had trouble putting my finger on it; it wasn’t a gap between the hard workers and the leisurely or the athletes and the non-athletes. Ultimately, the dividing line in my experience in my hometown was between those who lived in the borough and those from the surrounding areas. This divide was evident in many ways, from the churches we attended, the clubs we joined, and the family friendships we fostered. As a religious person, the first of these divides was evident from my personal experience. Our town, Lititz, had been founded as a sectarian Moravian colony, and its centerpiece was always the beautiful Moravian church. Now in recent times Lititz has not been overwhelmingly Moravian, but the culture of othering between those who lived in Warwick township and those who lived in the borough persists from that time of strict separation. I grew up in Rothsville, a smaller suburb without its own post-office known to Lititzens as a slightly poorer and grubbier mirror image of their insular town. To introduce myself as someone from Rothsville became frustrating because of the whiff of elitism that usually accompanied the response from my peers. Rothsville was a convenient location for my family to settle because my dad pastored a church just outside it, but my brothers and I could still attend Warwick schools, which were better than local alternatives. Overwhelmingly our educational experience was positive, but the divide was clear on all three of these fronts.
The evangelical churches attended by many of my classmates did not in any way partner with or line up with the Lutheran church I was raised in. There was no diametric opposition and outright skirmish, but there was certainly a gap between our practices, theology, and view of the church in the world. The evangelical free church which laid claim to many of the families in my school resided in a massive, ultra-modern building with two huge parking lots. Its congregants were wealthy, white, conservative, often athletes. This church’s focus was on big events, youth groups, fun trips, emotional pop-rock performances, and sleekly designed sermon series’ prepared by outsourced writers. Meanwhile, in poorer Akron just outside Rothsville, my home church was a small, tight knit group of socially progressive old folks. We had a piano, (played by my mother), a non-profit growing project, a consistent feeding and clothing ministry, and one passionate, occasionally world-weary pastor preaching a message of inclusive love, faith in action, and a commitment to the underprivileged. One can understand how these ways of understanding one’s faith cause a divide on their own. Coupled with a few other factors exacerbated by the borough-township split, they became increasingly striking through my years in high school. This cold war of sorts turned hot during the politically insane post-Covid years.
How do these differences, social and theology, play out in an everyday high school setting? Well, the borough kids, part of an in-group arguably dating back to the 1730s, had certain guarantees at Warwick high school. Varsity sports and the associated Fellowship of Christian Athletes club were their territory, as well as student council, dance, and, strangely, the orchestra. What about the rest of us? It wasn’t as if we were downright barred from these locations at school. But it was clear at all times that varsity sports didn’t include tennis or the Marching band, as these were unpopular, non-traditional places to commit to. The usual suspects were also cast out: debate club, quiz bowl, choir. And often these outsider groups were led and populated by youth who did not come from the borough, its families and churches, but from Rothsville, the township, Manheim. That’s not to say there was no osmosis, but it was stifled by norms reinforced by decades, generations of graduating classes. Our family ties, then, were determined by the same factors in a vicious cycle. My family was friends with the other families that were never quite on the inside, despite heavy involvement and three kids in the district.
I am not bitter about this divide–in fact. I scarcely thought about address as an underlying cause of it until the time came to write this entry. But the more I consider, the more I can see the baldfaced truth of it. What one of my friends from home touched on during our discussion around this was the sense of community built in the borough, often by exclusion, which does not exist in the outside areas of the school district. There is no Rothsville community just like there is no Rothsville zip code. We exist, but not on the same plane as the citizens of the borough, and our world was always overshadowed and subsumed by theirs. This caused me to view some of my peers as stuck-up, snobby, unkind, ignorant, and otherwise selectively welcoming. We experienced each other, yes as individuals, but also as the families and social alliances from which we came. And now, in leaving that world mostly behind, I have been able to see this gulf within my childhood more plainly.
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