It took a while but I finally understand hiding from the opinions of experts about my religion, or at least those who have something to say that differs from the path I am trying to walk, is the height of spiritual weakness. God can handle my questions. He is stronger than the swirling chaos of dissention in the masses. And he can certainly stand up to the fragility of my journey. It is me I most fear. . . I don’t want to give up before growing comfortable with my path.
I’ve always been a spiritual dabbler. My father was a Methodist minister and a gentle soul, beloved by his congregation and others who knew him. His sermons were sensitive and always under five minutes, the longest length of time the typical congregation member could handle and maintain interest. Growing up I wanted to be a minister like him. When I became a middle-school student I thought it might be better to be a missionary. Come my teenage years, boys and booze I gave it all up, thinking it was far more sophisticated to be an atheist. Many years passed before I could see was that I didn’t want to be a minister so much as I wanted to be like my father.
For the next couple of decades I bounced from one religion to another. My ex-husband was Christian Orthodox – going to mass with him was a time of the Spirit as the service was often in another language. I bathed in the power of the Spirit without having to worry about the verbiage. Exploring the New Age feminine mystic became an art form all its own. It evolved into a kind of Wicca thrust followed by American Indian studies. Buddhism gave me comfort until I dug deeper into it and saw it didn’t match my world view. Then I moved back to New England where it’s hard to be anything else but Christian or another conventional, traditional path.
I began going to the church my family went to. My sister’s family, my cousin and her twin babies, my mother and aunt and I squeezed into one long pew . . . my nephew and me teasing each other like incorrigible brats. Going to church was first an obligatory exercise fulfilled to quiet my mother’s incessant pressure. I listened to the sermons and took pleasure in the messages they imparted.I attended a program called Alpha designed to address the questions of new or returning Christians. The church tried hard to address the needs of its flock. There were programs during the week for everything from financial management, wellness, women’s issues, and a variety of Bible and church related needs. On weekends there were three services you could choose from and groups for diverse needs – parents of different aged children, married couples and singles. In services, we actually explored the Bible and what Jesus said. It finally occurred to me I would not be a Christian unless I understood the Bible and what it meant to believe in Jesus. I can’t say I agree with everything but it’s making a dent in my resistance.
It took visiting my children’s services in California to see where my religious education was missing. Methodist’s don’t talk much about the Bible. All those questions lurking inside were banging at my walls. The whole Jesus issue defeated me and the Trinity – forget about it. Their churches actively explored the Bible during worship services. And the music was uplifting, modern, more designed for this present life. Suddenly I had a hunger for a Church very different than the one I grew up with. Those questions I had could no longer be ignored. Although there were people I was comfortable with, it seemed I came to church alone, while there I usually felt alone, and I left alone. My needs as a single, middle-aged Christian woman were ignored despite my frequent queries to the minister. It was clear I needed to find a church which addressed my needs. So it came as a surprise when the church that met those needs was Baptist. I always heard they were Bible thumpers, highly restrictive in nature. In the end, that is where I needed to be.
In moving back to California, I found a church far different from what I had ever known. One Wednesday night I was driving past the church and there were people walking into the church smiling. I stopped and asked what they were doing. They just smiled and said they were going to Bible study and I could come if I wanted. I didn’t that night, but I thought long and hard about a church where people smiled before what had to be the tediousness of such study. But one Sunday I decided to give it a try. It was contemporary, fundamentalist. Bands played the music. Singers were uplifting, energized. Instead of hymnals, words were graphically displayed on a screen in front. People raised their arms and swayed back and forth. An occasional person would go up to the front, bow to the ground, and prayed for his needs. There was a separate room in the back for mothers with crying babies. (Oh, that I thought was a wonderful idea) There were about 2,000 people in the service I regularly attended – more than 4,000 overall. Mission work was highly emphasized, both in the community and worldwide. There were separate programs for women and men during the week. On Sundays, the congregation sang for a half hour then the minister spent the rest of the service in Biblical instruction and sermon.
There were some things that I heartily disagreed with – political discourses, when I had always believed in the division of church and state, an emphasis on money I wasn’t used to. Sometimes ministers seemed more like performers than priestly servants. One church I visited had strobe lights and a minister that acted more like a comedian, like it was all an act. But even though I got a lot out of it, it didn’t meet all my needs. I still felt alone even though I made a few friends, one especially whose husband and she answered many of my questions and weren’t afraid to show their humanness. In fact, after I moved away, they went on a mission to Thailand.
After three years, I moved back to Connecticut and found myself attending the church my Father was the Minister for when I was in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. It is the anti-thesis of California’s brand of worship. Now I’m on the Board of Trustees. We are working hard to determine the ongoing needs of the church. Many parishioners have been members for 40 or more years but even though they give everything they have to the church now, they may not be able to work toward growing the church as we need to. But the funniest thing about it is, I’m where I belong, exactly where I thought I’d never be. I love our minister. I love the community this church has. I want to see it grow in whatever form God directs us. And I want to be a part of it. I don’t feel alone.