The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.
– C.S. Lewis
Church was never my thing. The concept of sitting with a bunch of people all staring into the same direction made me uneasy and I especially hated the part where we all had to greet each other. I don’t know these people, why accentuate that with awkward handshakes that varied from “the limp fish” to the “Hulk smash?” When I was younger, there was Sunday school, and I liked that even less. It required interaction with hyper peers and all I wanted to do was zone out in the big sanctuary or color in all the “O’s” on the dozens of bulletins.
The first church I was remember was one of those big churches, with the concert-like worship services, massive camera set up, and a thousand-plus people whose names I would never know. When I was about six, we moved to Belgium, and found a church there that was used to ex-Pats and other international connections. I don’t remember specifics about that church, except that I liked it better because I actually had a few friends there and it didn’t feel like I was going to a football game. Coming back to the States was tough. We church-hopped for a while and ended up going to a church where they also had a homeschool co-op group we went to a couple times. I remember nothing of significance there, except that that was around the time I knew I needed glasses, because I couldn’t read the song lyrics on the projector. Then it was back to the original big church, where my brother and I were ushered into youth group as is custom for youths. I hated it. I was bored and didn’t know how to react when other girls in my group asked questions like, “So did Jesus like get his period and stuff?” or when they learned I lived in Europe, “Do you speak European?” There were two female leaders who I both liked a lot, who would occasionally look at me with a mixture of pity and appreciation, probably because I was quiet.
We switched to an Episcopalian church after my parents persuaded me that I did indeed have to attend some kind of Sunday morning service and Wednesday night religious youth gathering. It was pretty much the opposite of everything the modern Lutheran church had been. Liturgy, pastors with robes, kneeling benches, real wine for communion…I liked it for a while, but soon the repetition made it too easy for me to zone out. I couldn’t connect emotionally with anything, I couldn’t relate my crushing depression and intense feelings of isolation to a serene, old tradition-based service where the Scripture readers would practically shout at the small congregation in a disconcerting monotone. The youth group wasn’t much better. All the kids knew each other very well and even though my parents pushed me into practically every event, I never got past a certain point of acknowledgement. I felt tolerated. Nothing more.
In high school, I started going to my boyfriend’s church. My favorite high school teacher was also the pastor and there were other people I knew there, too. I didn’t have to start over and the transition was smooth. It was the first place I felt at home. I loved the sermons, the environment was relaxed, there wasn’t a pressure to perform. This would be where I belonged for the next seven years (minus a few year gap where I just didn’t go to church or school, because of my mental breakdown). I worshiped sincerely there, I met some of my best friends, I taught youth group there, I even had some dramatic spiritual experiences. Then everything seemed to fell apart all at once.
The lead pastor left and I haven’t really spoken to him since, not by choice, but by circumstance, I suppose. It felt like a betrayal. The rest of the staff got switched up and after building the youth group into the strongest ministry at the church, a large chunk of the kids graduated out of it and it seemed to slip away back into obscurity. It no longer felt alive to me. I lost the one church that had meant something to me, after so many years of searching. I left the church and haven’t really been back to any since then.
I’ve tried a few. Chris goes to the church he found when he first moved to Minnesota, but I’m still grieving, and I don’t really know how to recover. We’ve been to one together a few times, but I’m terrified of trying to meet new people and that was what made a church feel like home. My social anxiety is especially high when being social and church/religion collide. The people who have hurt me the most have all been Christians; the risk factor is already too high for me to handle.
I haven’t lost my faith in Christ; I’ve lost my faith in His Body. It looks and feels so different than being with Him does. The contrast is so stark, it confuses and wounds me. I don’t know when I’ll be able to reconcile the Groom and the Bride. I do know that they’re supposed to be together though. They’re just going through a rough patch right now.