Why I went (back) to church, and why I stayed

You know how, sometimes, you just don’t know what to do with yourself?  “I *could* do that… nah.  Or I… eh, nevermind.  Ohhhh, I’ll go… feh.”

That’s the mindset I came at this from.  I said, “if nothing else, I will write a blog post.”

A lot of folks my age don’t go to church.  A lot of folks in general don’t go to church, but particularly, folks my age don’t seem to attend in droves.  People my age are pretty far beyond the “my parents make me” stage in their lives, not at the “I have a serious partner who does X” place, not usually at the “I have children and want them to have a ___ community” years, and in general like doing what they want, when they want it.

According to Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch in 1999 43% of people in the United States claim to go to a religious service of some kind at least once a week.  In a 2003 Gallup poll when people were asked “Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?” 41% said yes.

So it’s a minority, but not by much.  But a recent survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that around 65% of young people (in their study it was ages 18 to 29) “rarely or never” attend worship services.  That’s not counting the people who go “sometimes” or, perhaps more importantly in my mind, the ones who are lying.

I went to church when I was younger.  I went pretty much every Sunday, and I liked it.  I went to Sunday School, I went to services, sometimes I helped out in the childrens’ chapel.  It was a big, evangelical Christian church.  A different Sunday School class for every age, two levels of pews, people rolling in the aisles and speaking in tongues, 2 services on Sunday morning, a service on Sunday night, and bible study, royal rangers, or missionettes (the last two are basically the evangelical equivalents of girl and boy scouts).

When I was 12 I started coming out as a lesbian.  Long story short, I was no longer welcome at that church.  I vowed that I would not go back to church, and I didn’t for over 10 years.  And I was fine with that.  I was happy doing my own thing.

I think I’ve told the story of how I came to be a church-going member of society on this blog.  I’m not quite invested enough right now to go back and look, but I feel like I must have.  If I did it probably said something like “I went to the church after we lost question 1 in November.”

But I stayed because I thought I’d found this awesome community.  And I stayed because the minister was amazing.  For somebody who was kicked out of a faith community due to having a sexuality that didn’t “mesh” I was pretty determined to find SOMETHING wrong with this faith tradition.  Something had to be bad about it, something that I didn’t like, that would drive me away.  Clearly they had to have SOME issue with my identity.  Afterall, I was now not only breaking sexuality barriers, but gender ones, too.

But the minister was queer.  Obviously and unapologetically so.  And I thought “I like this.  I like the other people here.  And if they let this person be their minister they I suppose they won’t have too many problems with me.”

I liked a lot of things.  I’ve always loved singing, but I rarely do it.  I loved the routine.  I loved the sermons.  I loved the ritual.  I loved that it seemed to be a happy and loving community.

And then the minister left the congregation.  I say she was fired, though I know that technically there was a resignation involved.  Either way, the congregation agrees that, by and large, we were not consulted in any way about this.  A few of us were more angry than the rest.  Some weren’t angry at all.

Since then we have been having services led by members alternating with services led by ministers from other places.  I’m not crazy about either one.  Nobody seems to be mentioning that the people who come every Sunday have changed.  Nobody seems to be mentioning that the sermons aren’t as engaging.  Nobody seems to be mentioning that Joys and Sorrows is awkward and either really long or really short, that we’re not using the teal hynmal anymore, that things seem stilted and awkward.  Maybe nobody is mentioning those things because nobody else feels that way, but I don’t think so.

Quite a few people have left, most of the ones who were really angry about what happened with our minister.  I haven’t left.  Right now I’m not going to.  Right now I am not thrilled with what the church has become but I also don’t give up very easily.  In my years of activism I’ve learned how glorious and amazing things that work can be, and I’ve learned that when something ISN’T amazing and fabulous that the way to change it is NOT to say “huh, that’s not working.  I’m going to leave now.”  Movements MOVE.  The direction they move is up to the people.  I know that that’s a botched quote from somewhere.  My point is that I want this church to be a spiritually renewing place for people like me.  For others, too, but sometimes you need to put yourself first.

I think church can be incredibly important for young, LGBTQ people.  I don’t think everyone needs it, but I certainly think that more people want it than know where to find it.

And to draw in the younger LGBTQ folks, churches need to show that they WANT those members, not that they will merely tolerate them.  Talk about sex in church!  Talk about social movements!  Talk about how young people have changed X, moved Y, and accomplished Z.  Let US know that WE are important.  That you value us in your community as members, first and foremost, not as tokens.

That needs to happen.  That’s why I stayed.

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4 Comments to “Why I went (back) to church, and why I stayed”

  1. Andrew this is important feedback for the congregation. I would like to copy it to hand out at the Board Meeting on Thursday, if that is okay. I agree with much you have said, though I have actually liked most of the recent services, finding a lot that meet my needs for spiritual or some other sustenance for the week. I agree most strongly with your determination to stay and work to help shape the future to meet your spiritual needs. My hope is that we will find a way that will meet all of our spiritual needs at least some of the time and the grace to know that when our needs aren’t being met perfectly, perhaps someone else’s is. I know you will probably think this is sappy, but I truly appreciate what you have added to our community–it is important.

  2. I am so proud of your insight and conviction. Like you, I find an exciting challenge in adding to the next phase of UUCE’s life. You represent an important missing piece among us and I, for one am enthusiastic about the possibilies and new ideas you can germinate.

    As I understand it, the resignation was not asked for but instead it was a sponaneous response to some requests from the leadership representing the board of trustees and the congregation..The by-laws state that it takes a fifty plus one vote of the congregation dismiss a minister. This was never even considered. It is very sad when differences can’t be worked out on both sides. This must have come about from seed thoughts already growing looking for a chance to manifest. I may very well be incorrect but usually this is the case in the case of such a spontaneous reaction.

    The congregation has been going though the typical grief process coming from something like this (almost like an unexpected divorse.. Right now we seem to be regaining our balance and most of the congregation is pitching in like they always do in a crisis. I am grateful for all the wonderful people who pushed through the unexpected and thought through matterds for themselves.. That includes anyone who isn’t attending now.

    Your blog is a great idea. You have a strong and courageous voice. .I am so glad you stayed with UUCE. You are a breathe of fresh air, have much talent and fill a big gap as your surveys reveal. I dod know how much we resecy you and are learning from you We rememberwell the service that you and Dawn and Wayne did for us a while ago..

  3. uups, typing too fast. I do know how much you and are learning from you–even more since we are getting to know you. I am still remembering the service you spoke at with Dawn and Wayne.

  4. I am coming late to this posting, but just want to add my two cents worth. First these comments are from two of the wisest women among us. Secondly, there are others who thought about leaving UUCE and did not. We may never know how many. Also, one of the things I miss most is Leelah’s poetic presenting of the ordinary. I like when you speak, Andrew. You help to fill that gap.

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