Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Faith Journey

Get a cup of coffee or tea -- this is a long one.

There was a point in my life in which I attempted to walk away from my faith tradition. I considered converting to another. I didn't though. It isn't that I decided that my particular tradition was true and others were false, it is just that it was who I was. I felt that in various ways my tradition had been part of what formed me.

It's like my citizenship. It is not that I just happen to live in America, I am an American. There is a lot, really a lot, that I don't like about America, but it is my country. I feel that I have a right and the responsibility to speak up when I think it is going the wrong way. I feel I can say with a sort of authority what part of it is ridiculous and what is important and worth preserving. I feel the same way about my faith tradition. I feel comfortable moving from one sub-group to another, but I thought that I would never feel quite authentic if I completely jumped ship.

I stopped attending church when I found that I could not say that I believed any of the things that I had been taught. I came back because I missed the experience of communal worship and individual prayer so much it hurt. Every now and then someone will ask me why I go to church. I often tell them, "Because they let me sing." That is not the whole story, but it is part of it.

We moved to Our Small Town 15 years ago. It was about 13 years ago that I decided to go back. Hubby had never stopped going, and he always took Andrew. Andrew was in a program during a service and I went. I stood there, sang songs and looked at the candles and knew I wanted to come back. I told the pastor, "I want to practice my faith and, at least for a while, not worry about whether I believe anything." I was fortunate that he was one who could understand and accept that. Many Christians find practicing without really believing to be hypocritical. For them, the whole point is to make that leap of faith and believe.

Over the years I have become more and more comfortable in church. Every now and then someone will ask me what I believe and I often tell them I don't know. I don't know what I believe. I just live here.

It is a painful, complicated story, but we resigned from a congregation about four years ago. I never thought I would resign. Drift off and stop attending or transfer my membership to a different congregation, sure, but resign? Who does that?

Parents of a gay son do it -- when the church council has just voted that a gay man may not serve communion.

The president of the congregation asked me not to resign. I asked her if Carl wanted to come back to church, if he wanted to serve communion, would he be allowed? She was silent, and I handed her the resignation letter. Not coincidentally, the Sunday that I handed in my letter of resignation was the same day the Pastor resigned. She was the first woman pastor I had ever had. Unlike me, she was not resigning as an act of protest. She had already protested, and now she was being run off. I had told her a month before that I would stay and support her as long as she was staying, but that if she decided to go, I would appreciate being told. Three families resigned that Sunday.

As we looked for a new congregation, all I cared about was that they were open and affirming. I never wanted to go through that battle again. Various congregations would be recommended to us -- this one had a lesbian who was on the council, taught adult Sunday school another had several gay members who felt very comfortable. Only one though had officially gone through a process resulting in a congregational commitment to be open and affirming.

It turned out that our first visit was also the first Sunday for the woman who would be their new pastor. After the service people asked her questions and then they voted to confirm her call. We left when she did, just before the vote. We talked to her briefly in the narthex, explaining that as first time visitors we did not feel that we should vote. We knew that it was an open and affirming church, but we really had no idea what that meant. It turned out that it meant that the congregation was full of people who had grown up in different Christian traditions, who probably disagreed on many theological points, but were there for very similar reasons that we were.

We had been there a month when we saw two men sitting next to each other. One put his arm around the other and Hubby and I both were overwhelmed. Hubby found them afterwards and thanked them. That one gesture, the casualness of it, did more than anything else to make us know that we and our children were safe.

And so life went on. About a year ago we started hearing more people complaining about the pastor. It was different from the rumblings of years past, and yet the same. We pulled back. I found that I just could not get involved in another congregational quarrel. I could not go through it again. Mostly the people were more civilized about it. A professional mediation group was brought in to help congregational members and the pastor resolve their differences. It didn't seem to be working particularly well, but everyone seemed to be trying to be adult about it. Still, it was uncomfortable. Last summer, while many people, including us, were gone on vacation the pastor was offered a year's sabbatical if she would resign. She did. We came back and she was gone. Guest pastors preached about the pain the congregation had gone through and how we needed to forgive each other. We were not the only ones who were upset and hurt, but it was done. After a while I stopped going to church.

I went back today. It was so difficult to be there. I find I am so angry, and yet I don't even know who I am angry at. I'm afraid I cried a good bit throughout the service. I wanted to stand up and yell at them all. Someone here was responsible for making my pastor go away and not giving me even with a chance to say goodbye. Afterwards I spoke with one of the older couples of the church, a man and woman whom I respect very much. They are also angry. He recommended that I write a letter to the church council, that I was not the only one who was still dealing with this and that even if the people who are (now) on the council were not the ones who made the decision, they are the ones who are responsible for finding a way for all of us to deal with it. He was clearly as angry as I am. He said the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" was his new theme song. Another friend of mine, someone that I happen to know did not like the previous pastor at all, came to hug me, knowing only that I was upset. I told her. I pretended that I did not know where she stood on the issue and I told her how I felt. Whatever problems she had with the previous pastor, I doubt she was part of what happened. She is also a friend and she understands how upsetting it was for me to come back from vacation to find that my pastor was just gone. It was helpful to talk to her.

And it is helpful to write all this.

I am thinking about writing to the church council. I know that I want to find a way to reconcile with the congregation. I want to find a way to belong there again. I feel a real need to get into a better place, and I want very much to get there before they place a new kid with us. What happened this past summer shouldn't have happened. However, that congregation is still the most open and affirming congregation (save for the Unitarians) within a 100 miles, probably more. It is not important to me that the kids in our care are religious, but the church is a good place for them to meet gay and lesbian adults who are in steady relationships, and they have all desperately needed to see that.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm very interested in the intersection between faith and church. Church is so human, and like other relationships can be so confusing and let us down so much--and yet we seem to need it. I am struck by the way you persevere.

  2. Your post strikes a chord with me, too. I am pretty much alienated from our local Jewish community, partially because of the way they treat GLBT folk, partially because of the way they treated a really good rabbi, and partially because of they way they have treated me, personally.

    One congregation, surprisingly, has asked me to sing for them for a couple of services. I will, but after fulfilling that obligation, I won't keep going.

    Although I miss going to services, the constant reminders of how badly they treat GLBT folk, that rabbi, and the things they've done to me are just too great. It's hard to go without feeling profoundly sad, and there are limits to forgiveness.

    I'm not angry at them, but I just feel overwhelmingly sad and there's nothing they can do to fix it.

  3. I can definitely relate to this. I'm fairly agnostic in my beliefs, but I go to services semi-regularly, observe the major holidays, etc. Not because God told us to, but because I enjoy it and it encourages me to think about things I think are important. And I like to sing too :) Right now I live in a liberal college town and there's a pretty wide range of options available from which I can pick and choose the events that appeal to me. But I'm already anticipating the time when I'll need to actually join a congregation if I want to attend services - and I'll probably need to choose between a congregation that comes closest to my beliefs about God and one that holds the more traditional services I enjoy most.


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