First Time Back at Church for a Year

Recently I attended a Church service. I can’t remember when I last attended one but I am fairly sure it was about a year ago. It may have been a service over the Christmas period last year. I can’t recall for certain when the last service I actually attended was but a year seems about right.

The last time I attended I do recall having issues with worship. I didn’t like singing the songs that I know so well because of what they represent. Standing there not singing them made me feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. What I chose to do then was to sing quietly, I didn’t enjoy it and it framed much of my desire to stop attending church completely. My wife understood and agreed that she would rather I didn’t attend if it made me feel that way.

So when our pastor friend asked if I would take photos at an upcoming baptism service, I surprised myself by readily accepting the invitation.

Historically, baptism services have tended to be emotional services. They remind me of my own baptism as a youngster, the same age that my daughter is now as it happens. As a Christian, baptisms were a good reminder of the promises I made and served as a focus point. This service would hold none of that for me and I was interested to see how I would respond to this one. Of course the primary reason I was there was to record the moment of immersion of the two adults being baptised and as far as I was concerned, any personal misgivings would be second place.

As it happens the service brought up nothing for me at all. There were no negative emotions, no uncomfortable memories and no feelings of discomfort. I even found myself signing the songs, which I still know by heart, in a manner that I haven’t for a very long time. That is I sang them as enthusiastically as one can without actually entering into a spirit of worship. The singing desire just came and I went along with it, I deny any suggestion that I was actually worshiping though.

My wife led the service, which she does regularly at the church and I did realise one thing, I miss hearing her sing, it is probably the single biggest loss I feel about no longer attending church. Even as an atheist I recognise that she sings well and leads sensitively, she is good at it, gifted even. I don’t have to engage with the spiritual content to appreciate and enjoy the good voice at the front. Other than that realisation, the service passed without event for me, the two getting baptised said their pieces and I took my place to capture their moments.

Talking with my wife about it later in the day I expressed my thoughts as mentioned above, that joining in the singing came naturally, in return she expressed surprise that she saw me singing at all. I guess the break from church caused me to calm down somewhat and my reaction to worship is less harsh than it once was. I don’t really think there is much to unpack here, other than to recognise the continued evolution of my own thought processes.

I don’t think it means that I’ll be returning to attending church regularly, I think my attitude will harden again if I go too often. It is nice to know that I can now attend a service and sing heartily without the associated baggage I had last year. That in itself should be considered positive progress.

Childhood Conversations

There was one thing that happened on the day which touched on something that may well rear its head at a point in the future, though for now it is not an issue. That is of talking Christianity with our daughter. She and I travelled to church together because my wife had gone earlier to prepare for the service. Knowing it was a baptism service, my daughter asked questions about why someone would get baptised and what it means to be baptised. I answered truthfully from the Christian perspective and even told her I was her age when I made my decision to be baptised.

If I’m honest, I didn’t especially enjoy answering like that but my daughter deserved a truthful answer and I believe I gave her that. She didn’t lead on to ask me why I no longer attend church; I would have told her the truth if she had. If my daughter is going to ask questions of the Christian life then I should answer those questions without bias. She attends church each Sunday morning with my wife and she has a child’s acceptance of what goes on there. If I were to take every opportunity to push and counter with my own feelings I could cause upset, yet at the same time, I struggle with letting her continue to believe something that I utterly reject. I struggle with her being indoctrinated each week, yet I don’t want to cause upset by being the bad daddy that hates church, because at root that is not what I am.

For now it does not need to be made into an issue and I see no point in escalating it to that status. I accept that while I continue to live a life that is tightly bound to Christianity these things will always be there. For now I’ll celebrate the progress and not make an issue of things that don’t yet deserve it.

 

 

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I’m no longer interested in Church at all

A few months ago I made a decision that I was not interested in attending church any longer and that included being involved in activities there.

Its not all long ago that I was happy to attend and happy to help out. I’m not entirely sure what sparked the change in attitude. I suspect it was no individual thing that drove this decision; rather it was a gradual adjustment of perspective.

The final straw came when my wife volunteered us both to help out in the weekly youth club. I didn’t particularly respond positively and the result was the accusation of me putting on a face like I’d been told to do something I didn’t want to do. The back story here is that some members have become unhappy with the church and withdrawn. This included some who had been involved in the youth club. Being in dire need of assistance, my wife did the honourable thing and offered help from a couple with past experience of youth club.

I went along for a couple of weeks and did my best, but frankly my heart wasn’t in it and it showed. Its hard to pretend to be an enthusiastic youth leader when you really aren’t engaging with the bigger picture. I had fun in the games but found the story time and biblical elements even more uncomfortable than when I sit in church.

The result was I had to admit that I was being turned off church and was at a point where I really didn’t want to be there at all. My wife has been very gracious in this and I suggested that I stop altogether because the last thing she wanted was a husband who resented church because it was forced to be there for the sake of appearances.

I didn’t see this coming

The honest truth here is that this has taken me by surprise. I never expected to be in a place where I was stopped church altogether and would seriously wonder if I was heading along a path towards being ‘anti church’. I’m not there now, but I do wonder if one day I will become disillusioned with people of faith to the point that I become anti organised religion to the point of some of the vocal atheists I know.

I’m not there yet, so let’s not get too carried away just yet.

I think there are two main reasons for my change in stance. One is that I am not at all comfortable being in a church service environment any more. Everything is so familiar, and yet so strangely alien. I know most of the hymns and song off by heart, I have heard most sermons and children’s talks. However, its not a world view I identify with anymore and the arguments I hear all get disassembled in my mind. I simply can’t engage on either a spiritual or intellectual level.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to articulate how and why I made this transformation of attitude. For the moment I can’t, I only know its happened. Maybe it was inevitable and I was just being naive or denialist in thinking I could continue to be supportive of church; probably both.

 

Two Things that Happened last Sunday

There are two things that happened in church last Sunday that I would never have expected to happen in our last church and I think are a credit to our new church and the Pastor in residence.

Leavers being blessed

The first thing was during the service the Pastor mentioned by name a couple who had felt that they wanted to try another church in the town. The pastor mentioned this and said they’d been at tenders for about 7 years and that while he was sure they church would miss them, he wished them well and wanted to make it clear that they were welcome back any time they wished.

I think it is a good thing that a couple have a respect for their Pastor to the point that they can have that conversation with him and it shows grace that the Pastor points it out in church and the sensitive way he did and makes it clear that while he does not want them to leave he wishes them all the best.

This is something that I simply can’t imagine happening in our last church. I have seen many people leave the church in the past few years and they all disappeared silently.

An open atheist being made welcome

During coffee after the service my wife and I got talking to a couple of ladies of similar age to us. They both have children, some of which are similar in age to our daughter. One of the ladies is a Christian and had just come back from a Christian weekend away and was positively buzzing with enthusiasm as a result. The other lady was from a distinctly non-Christian household, her story of involvement with the church is that some of her children started coming to the Friday evening youth club at the church and eventually two of her daughters expressed a desire to attend church on Sundays. She and her husband agreed they would let them make their own decision and so she brings them to church on a Sunday morning but she sits in the church foyer and does not attend the service herself.

She admitted that at first it was awkward but the church lets her do that and is fine with it. She was quite happy and unembarrassed to profess her lack of faith and her Christian friend didn’t appear to let it affect the friendship that has obviously developed, although there was mention of some conversion attempts but I got the distinct impression it was not overt and was not a big issue.

I admire both the church’s stance in making this possible and in the lady in questions honesty in being in that situation. There was a level of acceptance and integrity there that I simply could not imagine occurring in my last church. There are definitely people at my last church that are capable of enabling this sort of situation to happen, however I just can’t see the church leadership making it a comfortable situation.

At one point in the conversation I told the lady that she was being more honest by expressing her position and sitting outside the service than someone who attended the service and pretended. It was meant as a compliment to her, but I was fully aware of the hypocrisy within myself as I was saying it. It was a challenge to me to be more honest about my state of faith, especially with those I love.

So what next for me?

Well, I don’t know yet. All I know is that at some point I’m going to have to stop avoiding the inevitable. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to say it straight because I am afraid of the hurt and upset that will result. I would feel immensely guilty about being the cause of that.

Sometime soon there is going to be a conversation about becoming members of the church. I know that when this church writes to our last church that there will be a glowing reference of us as a couple and a family. However, I don’t think its fair or right for me to make the same profession of faith that I did when we became members of our last church. To do so would be to lie and be dishonest.

I think what I will do is tell my wife that I am not sure I can make that same declaration and see what the conversation leads to. She knows I am having doubts as we have touched on the subject before (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/).