To Church or Not to Church?

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Having a family that is deeply rooted in a very specific style of church and Christianity it has not been surprising that in moving to a new city one of the first questions asked of me is, “Have you found a church?” While the question is not surprising – it has caught me off guard. Because no, in fact, it hasn’t even entered my mind to look for a church. My responses have been mixed – and carefully pieced together based upon who is asking (we don’t want to send my ultra conservative grandmother into a sheer panic for her granddaughter’s “soul”). I have also found that many of those that ask about finding a church normally do so suggesting that it’s a great place to meet people.

I have no desire to go to church to meet people. This may sound rude – but in fact, I have rarely connected deeply with people at church. It’s normally quite superficial – and sure, maybe there are churches that host authentic people. And perhaps it’s me that brings the superficiality. When I enter a church, all those old personas I layered on as a “Pastor’s Daughter” come flying back and stick to my exterior. I put on my cheesy grin, say silly things with a mushy voice and really lose who I have worked hard to become – a woman that has a growing strong authentic spiritual faith based upon equality and truth. I then sit down in my seat and 8 out of 10 times completely disagree with the male pastor’s sermon, but walk out and smile at the people in the pews that thought the sermon was just marvelous.

I know that I am being very broad in my representation of church, and I am sure that I could seek out a church that has an equal ratio of female to male leaders and supports gay marriage and pro choice decisions, but for some reason, right now in my life, church is not appealing. And I am ok with that. I have found more spiritual connection in my yoga classes and deep connections with the various people I have met through yoga and in a Dream Group I am attending. (Again, this would send my grandma into a hysterical state if she heard this, and I would probably instantly be placed on the church prayer list.) I am active enough in this my new community that I do not fear meeting people – probably because I have changed the “type” of people I want to truly connect with. But I also must stay true to my journey – not going to church right now is what I feel is right for me right now.

As I have alluded to before, I find God in my quiet times of writing, in nature, in my yoga class, and in other deep conversations with friends. But I need to be mindful of how other’s connect to God – and going to church may be an important way for them to feel connected to others and to God. How to stay true to my journey while respecting others’ is very important for me to continually remember.

Before leaving South Africa I met with a dear older woman whose husband is a very prominent minister in South Africa. I asked her many questions about how she has stayed rooted in her own spirituality and faith and yet given space for others that want to stay involved in their church, especially being married to a minister. She emailed me with this response:

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and she was struggling with her membership of a very conservative church.  She attends out of loyalty to her husband who is a minister but comes away feeling angry and disillusioned.  I could identify with her struggle with finding the “old ways” don’t work anymore for her.  She affirmed that her  relationship with God stays strong but is searching for a more authentic way of expressing it. It took me many years to find this for myself.  I have a book on my shelf entitled Defecting in Place and it contains many stories of women who have decided to continue their membership of the church and at the same time find other ways of worshipping and expressing their faith.  This latter is a journey,  almost like the heroine’s journey, a search for the Holy Grail. It is an intentional decision to embark on this journey.  It takes courage to be different, not to bow to patriarchal beliefs and ways of doing things, and yes, even loyalty to an important relationship (life partner) is put under pressure.  However, if our love for one another is real and deep, disagreement, difference can be honoured.  In my case the latter was resolved by the other being willing to listen and struggle with me and feel the mutual challenge of the journey of faith which is always dynamic.

A few days ago my husband mentioned that he was interested in visiting a church. He is my other, my partner, and I must tread respectfully. For as much as he has respected my journey, I must also respect his. And this is the journey that we continue on together. It’s not that he wants to go to church to meet people. He is deeply moved by music and he finds God in church through worship music. The connection between connecting to God in a group setting through beautiful music is an important aspect of his own spiritual journey.

Just as my dear friend shared in her email to me – I must also “feel the mutual challenge of the journey of faith which is always dynamic.” This is the mutual challenge that I have so admired in my partner. He has allowed me to find my own authentic expression and connection to God. Unlike other husbands raised in the church may be – he has not been intimated nor frightened of the questions and places I have gone in this spiritual journey.

So here is the question that now hovers over me – do I attend church with him, in support of him, knowing that it is not for me, but for him right now? Or do I remain firm that right now I am ok with not going to church and ask that I opt out of going with him? He hasn’t asked me yet – but this is something I need to continue to process. My response to him must also be similar to his respect for my journey – if he chooses to return to church I must find an authentic way to support him in his decision.

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