“Once I got some distance from my church, I found it impossible to return. For years I felt like a spiritual exile, trapped by a religious past that would not let me go. In a way, the intensity of my religious upbringing ruined my search for a new church home. I was so used to an all-consuming tradition that every church I visited seemed like playacting by comparison. I was like a young man whose first love was so passionate and turbulent that I doubted I would ever fall in love again. I could not go forward, but I also could not go back.”
It took me longer to pick up that people didn’t want me around than it should have.
Hindsight is 20-20.
I look back at the stares, whispers, and the people who cornered me with insensitive questions and wonder what took me so long. Somehow it even seeped into my Methodist graduate school community. What do you do when you’re the hot new gossip? To be fair, I don’t think most people realized that what they were talking about included me. Does anyone ever consider the real people behind church gossip…or any gossip?
It was awful and it seemed like it would never end. Honestly, it still hasn’t. An old professor that I was incredibly close to literally turned and walked the other way at AAR/SBL last year.
I quit going to church (or any religious function). I remember my family went to a Lutheran Good Friday service a year later and we had to leave early because my mom and I were crying so hard it was becoming disruptive.
Eventually, though, I wanted to give church – any church – a try. My conversations with God were becoming more complex and I yearned for the community that I had for so long. Unfortunately, finding this is next to impossible.
I tried the Methodists, but my theology just didn’t fit. The best way to explain this is how a student declared to me that the thing that was wrong with Lutherans was that they were too obsessed with the cross. I was also told that my “obsession” with the Trinity was oppressive. As lovely as the UMC is, it wasn’t working.
I tried the Quakers. They scratched my social justice itch and their lack of hierarchy made it appealing after mine left my family burned. I also loved their search for a more mystical, individual relationship with the divine. However, again, my deep love of the Trinity didn’t fit.
The Pentecostals were wonderful, but I’m not known for being okay with losing control.
Evangelical churches that I visited were either too conservative on issues that I refused to compromise, or they were too liberal with theologies that I find essential….like the Trinity (seeing a pattern on this?).
I looked at starting a house church with just a few mainline (probably Lutheran) young couples, but either the people who were interested moved or mainline churches have a weird aversion to house churches.
I finally found a church I really loved. Old Saint Pat’s Roman Catholic Church, in the West Loop of Chicago, was so much of what I was looking for. Diverse, social justice minded, actually believed in the Trinity and many of the theologies of the creeds/early church, and (as a refreshing twist) was thriving.
Quick sidenote: one of the reasons I found this refreshing was not that the pews were packed (which they were. Often with standing room only), but that this church wasn’t letting the message that the mainline is dying hang on them. They were reaching out. They were missional. In so many of the churches that I visited, the idol of “we’re dying” or “why aren’t we as popular as we used to be” hung on the congregations like a stink. It’s depressing and it infects everything. I know house churches of 12 people who have made massive differences in the world. I know one fellow seminary student (at least) who has turned the world upside down with her ministry (that she does solo). Size doesn’t seem to matter, but the mentality of the church is horrifying.
Alright. Off my soapbox. I’m back.
I loved Old Saint Pat’s so much I decided to become Roman Catholic. I signed up for their classes (you have to take like 6-9 months of classes before you’re welcomed to the church on Easter Sunday) and was wondering how I was going to tell my centuries old Lutheran family that I was officially out.
Then, for some reason, things seemed to fall in my path. Obstacles were showing up and everything started to become harder. The night before my very first class, I had odd dreams about time not being right and brick walls. The next morning I threw up right before the class (this was Bennett saying hello via morning sickness).
I called it all off. Something wasn’t right. I was really falling in love with so much of the church, but my sub-conscious was telling me something. This wasn’t right for me.
Next week….where am I?