As children most of us went to church. Some of us were raised in non-demoninational churches. Some of us were brought up in devout, fundamentalist families – baptist, or brethern. Some of us grew up surrounded by catholic families with strong faith. Several of us were daughters of pastors, or missionaries. A few of us didn’t go to church and, later, we would feel like the rebels in our families when we did.
Some of us were from large families and went to church 3 times on a Sunday. We remember scenes of highly stressed parents frantically “getting us out for church” – shoes polished, make-up vigorously rubbed of us by our mothers at the door. One of us remembers the journey to church at breakneck speed in the cream Cortina – 5 disgruntled children being disciplined from the front seat. One of us remembers being embarrassed that our family was too big for one row and when we had to sit in front we remember our mother’s knuckle boring into our backs during the prayer.
Some of us went to Mass throughout our childhood and do not remember it ever being a chore or a hassle. One of us was collected every morning by our Granda, the two of us going to chapel by foot, then on to school. It is a fond memory, still.
Some of us had no God in our family. One of us heard about Jesus for the first time when we were eight years old at GB, it was pure joy. Wow, we thought, this is great! To be loved, by God. It captured our imagination, and gave us something bigger to live in than just what we could see. We drank it in, we couldn’t get enough of it. We asked to go to Sunday school.
For many of us church was home. Church was safe. People knew us and we knew them. We felt cared for.
Some of us went to Youth Fellowship on a Saturday night. We sang choruses and ate at the tuck shop after the epilogue was over. At church camps we would snog in the big brown bus to the sound of “I want to break free” on someone’s cool radio. We prayed in the ‘quiet times’ and underlined verses in our Bible with red pen.
One of us still gets tearful remembering that Christmas we ran through the building after a carol service leaving our mess of glitter and candy canes, but then were struck by the sight of the old elder quietly vacuuming up behind us.
Many of us benefited from mentors who invested in young people, passing down their wisdom. One of us was taken under the wing of the young adults group who let us sneak into their conversations and learn about faith and life.
One of us has never forgotten the prayers passed on by our granny. Every morning: holy Mary guide my footsteps home from school every day. Every evening: as I lay me down to sleep I pray to God my soul to keep, but if I die before I wake I pray to God my soul to take. One of us has never forgotten the hymns on the old Hammond organ at tent missions- ‘Just as I am’ and ‘Almost persuaded’. We hated the damp smell and grass underfoot but loved seeing who got up to get ‘saved’ during the long appeal.
The church one of us went to is full of ordinary people who love God and love people, and keep showing up when they are tired and don’t feel like it. These people were there when we were eight years old. Singing songs, telling stories, making juice, wiping noses, listening,noticing, caring. They are still there now. They think they are nothing special. But they are saints and heroes, and we wish we could be like them.
Some of us queued double round the Ulster Hall on Saturday nights for Manifest. We pitched our tents in Gosford in the summer. We sang our hearts out in the mosh pit to DC Talk. We took earnest notes with sparkly gel pen in our journals. We wore tie-dye and Jesus Freak t-shirts and carried the weight of the world’s salvation on our determined little shoulders.
Some of us joined committees and clocked up summer trips trying to be useful for God. A few of us tried to alter our personalities and didn’t know the damage we were doing to ourselves. Sometimes we said things we hadn’t worked out yet, and it would all unravel later.
Some of us felt objectified at Church. We felt one-dimensional. We led worship and the boys made bets about who would get a date with us first.
Some of us started to realise that church wasn’t all good. We became hyper-aware of politics. One of us fled from the sanctuary one day when the band started singing about unity.
Many of us stopped attending church in our twenties. Some of us stopped feeling safe and felt hurt by politics that hurt our family. We struggled to not let our experience of Christians affect our view of Christ. Some of us didn’t feel we could fit into a certain mould and did not feel accepted by people our own age. Some of us questioned the doctrine. Some of us got fed up hiding our hangover on a Sunday morning. Some of us needed to shed our Evangelical Hero Complex.
One of us carried guilt through our twenties about not attending Mass every Sunday and on holy days. One of us carried our mother’s cautionary words ringing in our ears – not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Many of us felt, or feel, terrible guilt.
Some of us healed in a church from not being in the spotlight. Some of us healed in our families. Some of us healed in the wilderness. Some of us are still healing.
Some of us have reconciled our guilt. The faith passed down to us was cemented in childhood. It supports us during challenging times. We find solace in going to the chapel when we need it. We just sit for a few minutes. We light candles and offer God our intentions through prayers.
Several of us feel loosely at home in a church. We don’t go regularly. We have belief issues that prevent us from committing as members – women’s roles, social justice, equality, biblical literacy. Christians in the country we live in can scare and frustrate us. We have a ‘faith community’ of friends who are a lifeline in their friendship and acceptance.
A few of us have huge doubts about Christianity, but that isn’t why we haven’t gone back to church. Somehow, we still don’t feel we can be honest in church. We tried to be but the church people thought we were too intense and boring.
Some of us can’t escape the expectations of others. We feel our genuine struggles are misunderstood as rebellion and selfishness.
Many of us still value church as a time and place and find a peace there. We see value in gathering with people of different ages and stages in life with whom we are united in faith. A few of us benefit from helpful teaching.
Some of us have no connection left, we think we probably want to go back, but we haven’t been able to face it yet.
For one of us it’s been seven years now. We feel like a tightly reeled coil, and we need time to unwind. We miss our childhood church, so much. We miss it for our children. These days our church is a meal with friends who are as confused as we are. It’s stories about Jesus before bed. It’s praying thanks for our food, and pleading with Jesus when there is sickness, and fear, and death. It’s being amazed by the shy deers who tiptoe out of the forest behind our house. It’s learning from the bees who live in the hives in our garden, they work hard and they work together, and they dance when they find good food! It’s asking questions, and accepting we will never have an answer. It’s loving people , listening to them, seeing them freely without trying to push an agenda. We know it isn’t enough, and we hope that someday we will come to the other side of this desert, but it is like this for now.
One of us is going to a church that has been studying Revelation. We wonder if this is a good idea. But the churches of revelation give us room to breathe. Talk about ‘church stories’. We hear a quote from Eugene Peterson describing the churches of revelation as messy family rooms and pointing out that St. John does not apologise. “Things are out of order, to be sure – but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms.”
As children most of us went to church. In our twenties most of us left. None of us are yet in a concluded place about church. Our thoughts are not tied-up. Some of us are going. Some of us are not going. But – we are asking each other our stories, and the telling of them helps.
Thank you to everyone who shared their story with me for this post.