I miss going to church. It has been 8 months since I have been to church. I miss church in the same way I miss my family. When holidays roll around I miss the warm fuzzy feeling of family that I never had. It is part of why Mother’s Day hurts so much. I miss the never-was, or the might-have-been. When the holidays roll around I miss going to church even more. I feel like I’m missing out.
I think a lot of people go to church because of those very same feelings. I think that church fills a hole in them that family couldn’t. It provides a sense of belonging. It is an artificial construction, but a good one, usually. Family is an accident. Friendships are chosen. Church, being (hopefully) a conscious choice, is more like the latter. It provides some of the same kind of support that family should provide but often doesn’t.
The problem is that I can’t go back to my old church. Even if the priest there leaves, I can’t go back. I’ve seen behind the curtain. I know too much. The magic spell has faded away to tinsel and mirrors.
I can’t go back to church as it is, because it isn’t what Jesus meant for us to be doing. But every now and then I have a hankering to go back.
I know three families who left that church before me (because of the same priest) and attend another one of the same denomination. I know that the priest of church A has called the priest of church B to tell him about those families. She told me this back when I was still on her side. She thinks she was “smoothing the path” and “building bridges.” If she was so good at doing that, then how come she couldn’t do that at her church with these families? Now I wonder if she has called the priests at the other local Episcopal churches to warn them about me? I wouldn’t put it past her.
I went to a “Lay Ministry Appreciation Day” at the Cathedral last year. It was the second one they had. I went to the first one too. I felt that something was wrong when I went to the first one, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After the second one I figured it out. At the end we were asked to write our impressions. I wrote that I was very sad to find that we’d spent the whole day learning how to “do church” and not learning how to be better Christians.
There were classes on how to be an acolyte, a chalice bearer, a person who administers home Communion, a lector, and an altar guild member. There wasn’t a single one on how to serve Jesus outside the church. There wasn’t anything about building up the Body. If you wanted to know how to wear vestments or hold a candle or prepare enough Communion wafers for a crowd, they had a class for it. Everything else, forget it.
Here are some examples of things I saw at the Cathedral that opened my eyes.
I wonder how much time was spent needlepointing them. Wouldn’t it be more Christ-like to spend that time visiting the sick and those in prison?
I wonder how much that cost? Wouldn’t it have been more Christ-like to spend that money housing the homeless?
There are stained glass windows throughout the building. One is from Louis Comfort Tiffany. The tour guide says that the Cathedral paid for none of them – they were donations. He’s missing the point. If someone can donate 5 to 10 thousand dollars for stained glass, they can donate the same amount to feed the hungry and clothe the naked instead – you know, the stuff Jesus tells us to do?
God didn’t come down to Earth for us to spend time and money prettifying a building. Jesus didn’t die for us to debate over where to keep the reserved sacrament. The more I went to church, the more I realized that I wasn’t serving Jesus at all. I was serving the administration. I was serving the institution.
Sadly, there are a lot of us who are stuck in this hamster wheel. There are a lot of people who go to church who have invested a lot of their lives and their egos in what they thought was being a good Christian, and what they are doing isn’t Christ-like at all.
It isn’t un-Christian. It just isn’t what Jesus would do.
Breaking out of this mindset is very hard, especially for people who have spent a lot of their time and money in and on the institution that is church. It is especially hard for those who get paid to lead. They have the most to lose. Yet, the way I’m seeing it, they have even more to lose if they keep on following the wrong master. We can follow only one master – make sure it is God, and not the institution.
So yes, I miss church, but it is more like I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I can’t miss what I never had. There are a couple of options I’m looking at that have a lot of the qualities I feel Jesus meant. I think they are a good start. But I’m wary. I’m wary of getting sucked in and fooled again, like I was last time. I’m wary of letting down my guard and getting really hurt.