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.

 

 

There’s a problem in front of the pulpit

I wasn’t expecting to get frustrated with the church we’re now attending, but now that we’ve been in our new location for a year the imperfections have begun to show and this time my wife and I find ourselves in the opposite position that we were in when I wrote this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/)

To set the scene, this church is predominantly an elderly congregation. The blunt bottom line is that unless the church attracts a significant number of younger people it will cease to be able to function. By younger I mean working people in the 20-40 year age group. Even the 40-60 age range is not that well stocked. The pastor and his wife are middle aged, placing them among the youngest church members.

The church has struggled along for a time with this elderly, however, its location in the town is an advantage and it has a thriving youth club setup where it is very busy each Friday night. Not many of these kids translate into young adults on a Sunday morning though. For that to happen there needs to be a change.

This is where the problems are.

When we first started attending the church more than a year ago, Sunday worship consisted of either a piano or the organ (which is a rather decent pipe organ) being played somewhat averagely or for a chorus, the song was played from a CD. It really wasn’t very inspiring.

The pastor has worked very hard to be relevant to a younger congregation because he knows this is what he needs to attract to the church. Other church members have apparently been praying hard for a long time for someone talented to come and improve the music aspects of Sunday services.

So when the pastor employs an office assistant, a lady with a good singing voice married to a man who plays keyboards in a band, and shortly after my wife turns up, also with a good singing voice, and music skills and a desire to lead worship; its seen by some as the answer they’ve been looking for.

If it was so perfect, what went wrong?

People, that’s what went wrong.

A year has gone by and my wife regularly leads worship and when she does the church gets treated to a very skilled keyboardist, a gentle drummer and two wonderful female vocals. Occasionally she pulls out her flute as well. She puts a lot of effort into making sure what she arranges is thoughtful, fits with theme and sensitive to as many needs as she can.

However, its still not good enough for some because now its like they are being performed to and they don’t want that. Its also been noted that the three couples mentioned above socialise a lot together and some think that’s not on. As it happens, the three men (Pastor, Keyboardist and myself) all go the local camera club and the three ladies have become good friends. Its only natural that there would be dinners between them all, after all, without each other the three couples wouldn’t have the essential social life of people the same age.

That’s not all that there is, there are some people with specific theological agendas, some of which conflict with the pastor. From what I’ve seen, I think the pastor is right and those with the agendas are on questionable theological ground.

So here I am, in the unexpected position of being an atheist in support of a pastor, who I call a good friend, while elderly Christians, people of long standing faith who should know better, threaten the church and spread bitterness. A sizeable number of people are apparently absent from services now and the pastor’s attempts to visit and reconcile have been rebuffed. I say apparently absent, because I no longer attend, but that’s for another post.

 

On Women in the Church

This isn’t a post I expected to write just yet, but recent events have meant it’ll soon become a source of much conversation.

But first some history

I am old enough to remember when the Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women, about 20 years ago. There was a lot of media attention on the matter and at the time I was never convinced by the arguments against the ordination of women. As a young Christian man, my opinion was that the spiritual qualities of a minister and their abilities to lead a congregation in a biblical were far more important than their gender.

At the time I worked in a computer shop and one of our regular customers was a vicar. A few days after the vote to allow women to be ordained he brought his computer in and he’d set up his Windows to have the most ghastly colour scheme you could ever imagine. Pretty much everything was a different colour and they were all bright and clashed horridly. When a comment was made, his response was that he had attended the vote and during the pre vote debate, so much was said that he considered unpleasant that when he got home he was in a such an emotional state it was the only way he could distract himself long enough to wind down to sleep. He was involved in the organisation of the Women’s World Day of Prayer, so I don’t think it’s difficult to guess which side of the argument he was on.

The Sunday after the vote, the leadership of the Church of England church I attended stated that they considered that the Church had lost something of its essence as a result of the positive vote. I never really understood what was meant by the comment and I never felt confident enough to ask. I was a little surprised though because the church did seem to support women in leadership. There was at least one female Lay Reader and women did preach on occasion as well. There was certainly nothing obvious about the language and the leadership of the church that indicated opposition to women in leadership.

After we got married, my wife and I were briefly involved in a church plant that this same church was involved in. The team put together was mostly women and the church actively supported the church plant and the members of the team.

When we relocated, we started attending a Baptist Church. One active church member, who we worked with in the youth ministry, was anti women in leadership. She was anti to the point where she would not attend a service when a woman was preaching. This included the occasions my wife would preach.

How do you support and work with a person on a close level and yet, due to their gender, don’t consider them worthy of your ear when they preach? The contradiction led to a couple of unhelpful conversations but, again, the reasons for the non-support of the female preacher never made any sense to me.

And so to now

Now we’re heading for the first anniversary of our latest move, gosh how the time flies! We’re at another Baptist church and we’re friends with the minister and his wife, and a handful of others too.

The church has its challenges, it has a far more conservative congregation, mainly due to its older demographic. The church forbids the women to preach, it’s in the constitution. The current minister does not support this rule, but he can’t change it without the support of the majority of the congregation. So my wife will not be preaching at this church any time soon, though she has already started leading worship on occasion and organised a worship group; two things that appear to be appreciated.

So why bring this subject up now?

Well, at the weekend one of the less old members of the congregation approached my wife and asked if they could meet up at some point to have a conversation because he suspected that they didn’t agree on women in leadership and he wanted to have an honest discussion before there was a chance of a misunderstanding.

I’m disappointed that this gentleman is closer to my own age than the traditional older members of the congregation, but I do admire his desire to head off a confrontation and hope that the result will be positive. However, I don’t really see either changing their minds so the result can really only be a return to the uncomfortable friendship previously described at our former church.

This makes me sad, but there is not a lot I can do about it, my wife is a big girl and she doesn’t need me to protect her from this sort of situation, however it is something she could do without. I guess we’ll have to see what transpires and deal with it from there.

Final thoughts

There is a paradox about not allowing women to lead and preach that has always bothered me. Churches (and people) that don’t support women behind the pulpit seem happy with women leading the children’s groups. If what the woman has to say is so unbiblical then why the hell allow her to talk to impressionable children but not to adults who can apparently think for themselves? If a woman is not worthy of expounding the gospel to adults then why the hell is she teaching the children?

I don’t get it.

Communion Forced Another Conversation

Before reading this post, it would a good idea for read the preceding one (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) to get the context.

Having admitted my doubts, the very next Sunday happened to be a communion. When I noticed, which was right at the start of the service as its very hard to miss the table all set up like that, my heart truly fell. I wanted to walk out.

I wasn’t ready to face this; I’d not even considered it, not even for a second. After goodness knows how long faking it by taking communion, I now found myself facing my denial square in the face and I had nowhere to run.

As the service progressed I got more and more distracted by the issue. I really wanted to leave and miss the communion part of the service altogether, which would mean missing the rest of the service. I didn’t want to just walk out in the preceding song, if I was to do so I might worry my wife. I could briefly tell her, but that might be just as bad.

“Sorry I can’t take communion”, then leave?

Well, it sounds easy but I couldn’t do that either, it didn’t feel fair to leave her on her own in the row.

So I stayed and I let the plate and glasses pass.

A week later we spoke about it

I kept waiting for my wife to ask me about it. She obviously didn’t want to push me on the issue so I eventually broached the subject myself.

I explained that I felt really uncomfortable being there during communion and that letting the plate and glasses pass me by wasn’t good enough. I was still deeply uncomfortable being there during communion. I couldn’t explain exactly why, I still can’t.

Unequally yoked

We talked a little more about other issues and I raised a concern I had about my current state of faith meant that we were effectively unevenly yoked and I didn’t want that to become a problem or a burden in our marriage. My wife, in her typically wise way, pointed out that over the years we’ve very rarely been evenly yoked. Our Christian walk has very rarely been in step, so why should this situation change anything?

She’s right, of course. She didn’t see it as being an issue so I shouldn’t either, so long as we continue to be honest with each other.

Then there was the next month’s communion

Then the next month came by and another communion service.

My wife gave me a get out and suggested that I could stay at home that day. It wasn’t free though, I had a list of things to prepare for lunch. I gladly took the deal.

This can’t be a long term solution though. I don’t know what the long term solution will be, we still need to work that out. In the meantime this month’s communion is looming, this Sunday I think. I guess we need another discussion.

Whatever happens, I know the worries I had about my marriage being affected by my state of belief are pretty much exposed as being over nothing. That’s a major relief.

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/).