Friday, April 18, 2008


A few years ago a friend of mine made a simple but profound comment concerning her plans for her life. I'd known her to be a bit of a gypsy who was always sure life was going to be better somewhere else--the end of the rainbow has to be here. No wait. There . . .

After two or three moves in a matter of a year she realized she was dragging her disabled husband and children through an endless decision-making process that might not ever reach a conclusion.

"There are no Heather shaped holes in the world," she told me "so I'm just going to have to make the best of it where I am."

I sighed a sigh of relief for her and I'm sure her husband and kids did too. She'll be graduating from nursing school soon, at the top of her class.

My hippie up-bringing effectively cured me of looking for rainbows. For me, the the metaphorical pot of gold is my family and home. While I love to travel, having a home base and a certain amount of routine is terribly important to this earthbound creature.



(There had to be at least one of those, otherwise this entry would be a lot shorter and maybe less interesting, depending on whether you're still reading at this point).

This does not apply to my place of worship. In that area of my life, change is terribly important. I intensely dislike ceremony and formality and am drawn to contemporary, relaxed services where there are uninterrupted opportunities to worship.

Looking for this, we've visited a number of churches and been members at three in the last eighteen years and I was the one who pushed for the change every time.

The church we attended when the children were small came the closest to being a perfect fit. But in a scant ten years it went from a group of genuine grassroots people--homeschoolers, repentant old hippies, college students, and back-to-earthers who were sincerely seeking God's presence to a different group of successful people with money who saw the church as a business opportunity (read: super church).

The second church was . . . well, let's just say they came with a lot of rules and regs and three services a week and an almighty, "Weeee mmmisssed you at church this morning. Why ever weren't you there?" if you were absent. Liquor was out. Disney was out. Santa Claus was out. Dancing, rock music, card playing were all out. It didn't take me long to feel like a hypocrite, but it took four years to leave. The people were kind-hearted and loved my husband and my kids, but their judgemental attitudes drove out more than one searching young family. I only stayed as long as I did because the people from group I played gospel music with worshipped there.

The church we've attended for the last five years was full of nice people when we joined and this is still true. However, when we joined, they were nice, younger people. There was at least an attempt at a contemporary worship service led by a younger minister with kids of his own; I taught Sunday School, led the youth group, sang on two different choirs (one contemporary group). Now it's nice older, retired people. My kids are the only ones in Sunday school so someone else is teaching them. I'm the only one younger than sixty. This change came about because the younger minister transferred to another church and the very nice older gentleman that took his place is on the brink of retirement himself. The music has reverted to older hymns, responsive readings, and what is--for me--a lot of spiritually dead ceremony. The sermons are nice middle of the road chats made up of antecdotes that make people smile and nod and little else.

Quite frankly, I'm not happy at all, but Gary and the boys' are and, as Gary is studying the possibility of becoming a minister with this church, I'm trying to figure out how to make myself happy.

Gary is willing to try another church, but it's just not in me to drag the children through another change. And if he's happy (and believes God wants him to preach) I'm not anxious to drag him through it either. And, frankly, as he's ostensibly the spiritual leader in our home, I'd really like this idea to come from him, just once.

So I'm working on my prayer life and learning how to be okay part from corporate worship. I have an ongoing relationship with God and we've talked about my unhappiness a lot, but I think I'm about to conclude, like my friend Heather, that there aren't any Mary-shaped holes in any church pews anywhere so I'm going to have to make the best of it where I am.


debby said...

I'm sort of at the same place. I love people, and they seem to love me. However, the minister likes the women in his church to be quiet, I think. I was at a Lenten study he taught. He talked. He directed. There was no imput from anyone else. He said something that sparked a response from me, and I said it, and realized that my response was NOT welcome. Tim is a quiet person. He likes to sit and listen. I like to interact and to discuss. I've tried just sitting quietly. I've really really, REEEEEALY tried. But what I feel is dead and uninvolved. Yet now I can't speak in church, because I feel self conscious and ashamed. I'm not at the right place. Tim doesn't want to leave. I feel like a big baby. I love people. I love the people there. I love the kids in my Sunday school. I'm not sure what the thing to do is. So I go through the motions and wait for God to tell me.

Scotty said...

I normally shy away from discussion on religion/faith being the nullifidian that I am (*smile*) but I'm curious about something, Mary.

Why not find your own pew that fits instead of trying to confirm to another? If Gary and the boys feel comfortable at the church, that's great, and they should continue to go. But, is there anything that says you can't find a shady glade near you with a tree stump as a pew in order to have your conversations with, or pray to, your god? Is it set in concrete that you have to have your relationship with your god ratified in a church (and I'm genuinely curious, not being a smartass or anything) - do you think your god would mind all that much where you found the space and the time to commune together?

I appreciate that there's a 'church family' thing that often happens - maybe you could balance it out with a mixture of using your own pew and the church's ones so that it feels more comfortable?

I dunno, just a thought.

Mary Paddock said...

Deb, the minister at the second church was a great deal like that. My husband sought him out for counseling with respect to tithing and asked me to join the conversation. The minister chewed my husband out for his lack of faith (tithing--giving ten percent of our then meager income--was breaking us). When I asked a question, he shot me a black look that stopped me in my tracks. My husband left the conversation feeling like a failure and I was livid. I learned from his wife in a women's Bible study that he expected women to be quiet and do what they were told. He and I never got along well.

I'm not any better at being quiet than you are. In fact, I'll bet you're better at it. :)

Scotty, thank you very much for caring enough to offer your thoughts. It means a lot.

We believe that church is a family event and having both parents in the pews, and active in the church body while kids are growing up helps them to find their footing spiritually as adults. If I stop going, even if I was supposedly off worshipping by myself, I'd be sending some pretty mixed signals (stop going when it's not fun anymore or when it's inconvenient).

No, I don't think God would mind at all if I stopped going to church. Our only directive in this regard is to seek out other Christians for friendship (fellowship) and prayer and reading the Bible and singing together; it does not specify that it has to be in a church building. Believe me, this is on my mind alot lately.

The kids are young enough that they benefit from the structure church gives them--a place to go and study and hang out with other kids who are seeking God too, as well as to participate in events like camp, lock-ins, concerts, community service, etc. It's about getting in the habit, if that helps. So, for them, if nothing else, I'll continue to go.

Does that kind of make sense?

debby said...

I think that you are right, Mary. I think that Scotty is right as well. I put in my time at church, but I also can pray sitting by myself in the woods. We are called to be in fellowship, and so I go to church, even though I feel that I'm lost at this point. I believe that part of that is due to stress in my own life, worry about my daughter, etc. I do not feel as if I should make a decision in haste. It will become clear to me at some point. One thing I do need to point out is that our minister is not rude to me. He's just sort of a self centered person, right now. He's lost a father, a younger brother, and dealt with some major crises in his own life in the past year.

Scotty said...

Yep, makes sense - thanks, Mary.