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Dolly Parton grew up in a God-fearing family. But she had some trouble connecting with the religious beliefs the people in her town subscribed to. Until one day, she found God in her own way—in an abandoned church with a bunch of lewd drawings on the walls. 

Dolly Parton playing guitar in a pink dress.
Dolly Parton | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Where Dolly discovered her spirituality

The “Jolene” singer didn’t feel comfortable in the church she attended with her family. The preacher often spoke of a vengeful God, which scared her. And she didn’t like people looking at her when she prayed. So she started to search for other places where she could attempt to connect with God. Eventually, she stumbled upon an abandoned church in the community she lived in. 

“Most of its windows were broken, and its old floorboards were buckled and dusty, but to me it seemed like God still lived there,” Parton wrote in her first memoir, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “Ironically it had become a place for all types of sin and vice. Boys would meet there to shoot craps or drink beer and moonshine. Couples would use it at night for sexual encounters. Boys and men fought there. There had been more than one stabbing. And yet, for me, God still lived there.”

God, music, and sex

As a growing girl, the “Down From Dover” singer had three main interests: God, music, and sex. This abandoned church had all three. So she kept coming back for more. 

Parton would often play under the floorboards of the church in the dirt. That’s where she’d occasionally find condom wrappers that she’d pretend were gold coins. But she knew what they really were, and they fascinated her. Inside the church, on the walls, were lewd drawings.   

“I spent a lot of time looking at them, studying the way the sexual organs had been drawn and at times trying to add to them,” she wrote.

Also in the church was an old piano.  

“I picked up the flat pieces of ivory that had been the tops of the piano keys and kept them as treasures,” wrote Parton. “I once took some strings from the soprano section and affixed them to an old mandolin I had found in our barn. It was more like a dulcimer, really. And when I strummed it, it sent up a droning sound that I could sing to. I wrote a lot of songs with that old mandolin.”

The “Don’t Make Me Have to Come Down There” singer kept finding herself at the church. She’d sing some hymns, pray, then “look at dirty pictures for a while.” 


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The day Dolly Parton found God

One day, when the “Coat of Many Colors” singer was praying in the abandoned church, something changed.  

“I broke through some sort of spirit wall and found God,” she wrote. “Away from the stares of the boys and the mothers and the preachers, I had met him not as a chastising, bombastic bully but as a friend I could talk to on a one-to-one basis.”

This God told Parton that she was perfect exactly as she was, despite the shame she was often taught. 

“Here in this place of seemingly confusing images, I had found real truth,” she wrote. “I had come to know that it was all right for me to be a sexual being. I knew that was one of the things God meant for me to be. I also knew that my dreams of making music, of traveling outside the Smokies and pursuing a greater purpose, were not silly childhood ideas but grand real schemes ordained and cocreated by my newfound heavenly father. I was validated. I was sanctified. I was truly reborn. I was happy.”