Took the kids to church last weekend, haven’t been to church in years, unless you count baptisms.
I’ve been debating whether to post on this, because I’m really not sure where I am with it in my own mind. But this is where I talk to myself when I’m hoping someone else will listen, and so here it is.
Little Boy thought God was the same sort of entity as Batman and Spiderman. I thought that was maybe not so bad. It wasn't as bad as when he used to think that Jesus lived way down in the toilet - I'll tell you that one another time. But at Christmas, and he asked me to take him to visit Jesus. I told him we could go to God’s house, and I explained that he can talk to Jesus whenever he wants, he only needs to pray. "But," I told him, "Jesus was born a long time ago, and then he grew into a boy and then a man and then he died."
“Jesus is DEAD???? WHAT????” Little Boy started to cry, and I was flabbergasted.
“Well,” I said, and I scratched my nose. “Yes, he’s in heaven with God.” But it was past bedtime and Little Boy had already begun to cry. That’s like rolling a ball downhill, so I scratched his back for a while and decided it was Time To Go To Church.
My Dad’s mum died when he was thirteen. As she lay dying she said to the boy my father, “Peter, raise your children in the Church.” And that is what he did, out of love for her, and for me.
The Catholic Church. It was a formal sort of place, you put on your Church Clothes and your Church Manners and you sat still until it was over. It was all pretty serious. There was a Childrens’ Liturgy so it was maybe not so stuffy as all that, but nonetheless, when I remember it is with a feeling of mild oppression. And yes, there is plenty wrong with the Catholic Church, but it is Mine. It is the faith given to me by my family, and my place in that community is as real a possession as my name.
But the Catholic church in my area has no Sunday school, and it’s a fifteen minute drive away.
At the bottom of my street there is an Anglican church. My neighbor (also Catholic) goes there and she said they have Sunday school and it’s a nice place. I don’t have to convert, she assured me. Nobody cares. So I bowed to the overwhelming convenience of it, and that’s where we went. I haven’t told my Dad, but I hope he’d rather we go to an Anglican church than not go to church at all.
Anyway, I put the kids in the car and steeled myself for the sort of Church experience I’m used to. I was all right with that, but it wasn’t much like what I remember at all.
Everybody in that building smiled at me at one time or another. The older people greeted my children, laying softly veined, arthritic hands upon their heads. A man, seeing me with Baby Girl in my arms, took our coats and hung them up. Someone gave me a prayer and a hymn book, and someone else asked my son’s name so he could have a name tag for Sunday School. A lady sitting behind us entertained Baby Girl with smiling and touching-fingers games throughout the service.
It was a little different from Mass, but not much. Many of the words and prayers were familiar, and honestly, I felt near to tears through much of it. I don’t know if it was the comfort of the ceremony itself or the feeling of welcome and community, but I was moved.
After the service, an older British lady - who incidentally had held Baby Girl in the grocery line a few weeks ago, something people don’t normally ask to do any more - came over to say what lovely children I had. She wasn’t the only one to say so.
There were cookies and juice, coffee and tea.
The lady behind me introduced us to Reverend Jane, who talked with me a few mintues before she pointed out that my children were welcome to receive the Eucharist. I was a little shocked. “But Little Boy hasn’t had his First Communion, maybe I should explain what it all means first…”
She was troubled by my response, I could see.
“Jesus didn’t say ‘Take this bread and understand,’” she told me softly. “He said, ‘Take this bread and eat it.”
Hmmm. That’s a very different sort of philosophy.
Throughout the week I’ve found myself thinking about the sense of peace and welcome that I felt there. I admit, there is a tiny voice that reminds me that my donation is as welcome as I, and of course they want new families to come. You can’t have a church without people.
Oh, shut up, I tell myself, you can’t have anything without money. If I’m going to enjoy the benefits of that community for myself and the kids, I should want to give back.
And I do want to go, for the kids. It’s not because I think God and Church are the same – they’re most patently not. If they have church when they’re little they’ll feel comfortable there when they’re grown. I think lot of people who have never gone to church have secret dark suspicions about what really goes on there, and when they’re forced to attend they look like they’d rather be at the dentist. From an educational standpoint, I want them to know what God and Jesus are all about. And who wouldn’t want a place for their children in the embrace of a community as warm as this?
But I also want to go for me – and I have no idea what to feel about that. I haven’t been a Churchgoer for so long it’s not a part of my self-definition any more. I know and respect lots of people who go to church, but I’m not comfortable with the label for me. I think that’s because when I was growing up, the church was a place where you didn’t show much of your real self. You were expected to act and be a certain way, and even as an adult part of me resists that. Can I have it both ways?
I guess we’ll see.