(Warning: As if the title wasn’t enough, this entry will get a bit religious – though clearly NOT fundamentalist or conservative. If you choose not to read this one, that’s cool. 🙂 But you know the drill – my blog…)
I’m writing this on Easter. I’m sitting on my bed in my pjs and a hoodie, barefoot, watching Grimm on the DVR, and eating Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken over Trader Joe’s brown rice – not in church, as I’ve been virtually every Easter of my life (exceptions largely being where I let the Easter Vigil substitute for my Easter morning service – and possibly in college, but I can’t remember).
And I’ve got mixed feelings about it.
I could have chosen to set the alarm and get up to be at church this morning (because I worked last night, the vigil wasn’t a possibility). After all, I’ve got two more days of break (only two??? *whine*) where I could get sleep. But today didn’t seem the day to start exploring options again, and I just don’t really want to go to the church I’ve called home for the past few years.
Let me explain… I apologize if this gets long…I’m really trying to work through this, and I do that best by rambling apparently.
I grew up for all intents and purposes a PK – a preacher’s kid. My dad wasn’t ordained until I was in college or later, but he worked in the United Methodist Church as a Diaconal Minister – a lay (non-ordained) position. He was in charge of Christian Education – either for everyone or specializing in youth. As such, I never got to choose the church where I went. And by and large I never got a choice in going. We were expected to be up and ready to go on time. I went through confirmation class in 6th grade because it’s what was done, and I went through confirmation largely because I didn’t want it to look bad on my dad if I decided not to. I did love my experiences at church camp, and I loved the early years in youth group. Then in my late high school years (I think it was junior and senior year…though I could have had to deal during my sophomore year before I had my license), my dad stopped being in charge of the youth program and someone else was hired. Gary was someone who never really left the 60s, and the couple he brought in as counselors for my group (long story, but basically we lost the couple we’d had for most of our youth group experience, and it was not handled wall) had definitely never left the 60s. I hated going to youth group as I never felt I got anything out of it. I kept protesting, and finally my junior year when I could drive, I was given permission to leave after youth choir rehearsal and skip youth group. It wasn’t much, but it was a bit of independence.
In college, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t want to go to the Presbyterian church that was in walking distance – I knew I didn’t really want to be Presbyterian. The United Methodist Church that was within walking distance and could have had a fantastic college outreach if they’d chosen to, chose not to. Plus it was a little electric organ (ew…music IS important to me). And I think the couple of Sundays I tried it, I brought the median age to around 80. Friends who drove went to the Baptist church, and I think I went once with one of them, but that definitely wasn’t for me. So I pretty much let the Student Christian Association be my church – until I gave even that up because I didn’t like the direction it was taking. I’ve never really been the happy-slappy kind of girl when it’s not balanced with deeper stuff. So really I didn’t have “church” in college beyond when I went home – and since we moved right after my high school graduation, I never really felt at home at the church where my family was going.
Ironically it was the first church we’d been able to choose because while Daddy was working for a church organization, he was not based in a church. So after looking around at various United Methodist churches in Nashville, we settled on Belmont UMC. We all agreed as a family that it was the right fit, and I just attributed my not really feeling at home there to my short time before beginning college. After college, I went more regularly – sang in the choir, joined a Sunday School class…generally did what I could to be involved and a part. But the cracks soon started showing. The class was quickly becoming “couples on this side, the few singles on that” and I didn’t want that. I was going simply for choir, and eventually that was wearing on me as I wasn’t getting anything out of the services and was just there to sing.
My parents were very open to letting me look at other churches, and it didn’t take long for me to find the Episcopal Church. I found Christ Episcopal Church and went for the rest of the Spring and Summer (I think I started around Palm Sunday, but I may be off on that), and in the fall I joined the class that would lead to confirmation, and I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil in 1995. I helped out with the class the following year, and began looking at seminaries with the intent on working in Christian Education in the Episcopal Church. I loved the traditions and the whole three-legged stool approach in the Episcopal Church where our reason and ability to think for ourselves was every bit as important as scripture and tradition. We didn’t just blindly accept things, we were allowed and encouraged to think through things and decide what we believed. Yes, there is the Creed that is said every Sunday – but I really felt I’d found a home when my priest even said that there were times SHE wasn’t really sure she believed everything in the Creed – and that that’s where the community came in…to hold us up until we can stand on our own again.
I went to Virginia Theological Seminary to study Theology and Christian Education. There I was exposed to all different kinds of Episcopalians from the most conservative (as in still opposed to women in ministry) to the most liberal. After graduation, I started working in Raleigh where I focused on youth first and then gradually more of the children’s stuff as well. I loved youth ministry and after a few years found a job in the Chicagoland area focusing solely on youth. It was during that time I was introduced to the New Beginnings and Happening communities – that’s where yes, there was some happy-slappy stuff, but there was also depth and room to explore. And so much love. I felt so at home doing those events. That job ended due to budgetary reasons, and I was looking for another job.
I found one, ironically enough, at a United Methodist Church in northern Virginia. I wasn’t out yet, but I’d had discussions with Daddy about the UMC’s position on homosexuality (basically “we love you as people, but your life isn’t compatible with our teachings”) while having “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” as their denominational “catch phrase”. But from my interviews, this church seemed like a good fit. It became obvious pretty early on that there was a core group (financially core, let me be clear) of very ultra-conservative people with whom I would always be in conflict. And in less than 9 months, I was tendering my resignation. (This whole time really launched the process that led to me finally coming out to myself – and everyone else.)
Once again, I was able to find a church, and I happened upon one that quickly became my church home in the DC area. I hated leaving it when I moved to NYC, but I figured in a place this big I’d surely find a church home. I tried one church that had a wonderful inter-sensory modern and yet ancient service on Sunday nights, and I loved it. And then almost immediately after I joined, the priest who had been responsible for that service left and the service was put on semi-permanent hiatus. The regular service was way too corporate (as in business-like) for me, so I looked around again. Found my most recent (and technically still current) church home, and it seemed like a great fit.
And then that rector left and a search began. I was hopeful with the new guy that was hired, and things seemed ok for a while, but over the last year things have been changing in ways that I just can’t get behind. I haven’t been in at least a couple of months, and other than missing seeing some friends, I don’t miss the church at all. It doesn’t feel like home any more. The priests I’d grown to love aren’t there any more. There’s a deacon who makes me want to hold up a huge COEXIST sign every time he preaches, there’s a priest doing the Hispanic ministry who occasionally preaches though his accent is so thick I can’t understand a word he says, so those sermons are lost on me. The emailed newsletter was enough to tell me I didn’t want to bother as virtually every week was a guest speaker. I know that the church is more than the leadership, but it’s not the parish I joined anymore, and I don’t feel at home there. Even while hanging wit friends, I feel like an outsider in the general congregation.
Which brings me to today. Sitting home on Easter, and pondering where I go from here.
I know that I don’t need a church to “prove” my belief. I can pray on my own, I can be spiritual on my own – long runs outside, whether in the park or along the water can definitely be spiritual experiences. And I know that the church is more than just the building and trappings (“the church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is the people” – remember that song?), but let’s face it, the expression of a faith community’s beliefs and how they live out their faith do play a big part. I do think that it does help to have a community in which to worship. That community to hold you up in their faith until you are more sure again. That community to share things with. That structure to build upon.
And I do want to find a faith community I can call home. It’s nice to have the freedom to choose, especially after not being able to for so many years. I find it kind of ironic that, while I never fell into the “typical” PK role (see the Lifetime show “Preacher’s Daughters” for those stereotypes) growing up, I seem to be having my reaction to “freedom to choose” by being perhaps ultra picky about where I call my faith home. Theoretically, everything is a possibility – well, for me everything within a Christian tradition as I don’t want to change religions.
I know what I don’t want – that’s pretty easy, and that sets some boundaries from the get-go. I feel like I’ve been to the Episcopal Churches that interest me (well, there’s one I’d be interested in, but they are in a search process, and I don’t want to join during that time as things can change once the new person is in place) in the NYC area. And I’m not really wanting to revisit any I’ve been to before – there was a reason they didn’t feel like home before. I know what denominations I don’t want.
And ironically, that puts me back at the United Methodist Church. Well, certain congregations. Reconciling congregations – those that have statements they live by that openly accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. They work to change the church’s stance on homosexuality. They work for the full inclusion of all people in the church. I know about them because Daddy is working with the church he and Mom attend (and where he used to work) on the Reconciling Ministries Committee. They are undergoing the process where the congregation will eventually vote on and hopefully approve a welcoming statement and become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. So I know sort of where to begin looking – the RMN website.
I’ve found one I want to visit – though it’s a little awkward as I’ll be gone next Sunday, racing the one after that, here for one (though possibly meeting with my trainer…I have to see if we can change the time or do it on Wednesday night), and out of town for the next. There’s another that I’ve been intrigued by, but visiting their webpage, I’m not sure it’s for me at all. And another that is further than I’d planned to travel, but I may check out. Because I do want to be part of a community – I just need to find one that fits.
And that can be challenging, especially as I’ve seen the good and the bad. I know the highs and the lows. And I’ve been on the inside, so I perhaps more easily see the cracks and potential pitfalls in groups. I know there’s a place for me…I just have to find it.
And it seems that’s going to take a big step of faith. When you’ve been hurt and burned, it’s harder to open up and really receive what a community has to give.
I know I can do it. I just have to take a deep breath, open myself up, trust… And leap.