Setting the Scene

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I grew up in a Catholic family and I went to a Catholic church for as long as I can remember until I was about 16 years old. I was baptized, received my first communion, confessed my sins, and was confirmed a member of the church. I was at Mass every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and couldn’t wait for Father C to say, “And enjooooooy this beautiful Sunday.” I knew when he said that, Mass was over. Sometimes that hour felt like torture. When we were little, Mom would let us color or read or do just about anything to keep us quiet and in the pews. As I got older, I remember that hour being full of eye-rolling, skepticism, hurt feelings, boredom, or fuming fire-y rage from whatever offensive crap someone was preaching from the pulpit.

On the other hand, I’m thankful that I do have some positive memories from my church-going youth. I remember always throwing a peace sign to our babysitter when we would pass the peace. On some Sundays, I would go to Children’s Liturgy with all of my friends – anything to get out of that oppressively humid and boring sanctuary. Basically, during the homily, they kicked all the kids downstairs to have a kid-friendly lesson and discussion. After the liturgy, we’d all march back upstairs to the sanctuary and sit on the floor in front of the altar. Father C made it perfectly clear that “there is only one trip to Jerusalem.” Once we decided to sit there, we knew we were there for the rest of Mass. One Sunday a month for a few months of the year, we’d go to the farm (where I almost always got poison ivy). The whole church would go, we’d have a cute little picnic and then get to work. It was also really fun to go to church in play clothes. During the Lord’s prayer, we’d stretch across the center aisle to hold hands and pray. There are more stories I could tell, but I’ll save them for another day.

When it comes down to it, I went through the motions of being Catholic, but I can’t say I ever really understood why I was doing what I was doing. In my early childhood, it just felt normal. It felt good to be a part of a community and I loved bouncing around before and after to say hello to family friends. Most of my friends at school were doing the same things. My family encouraged me to do these things “in case someday I wanted to get married in a Catholic Church.” I knew all the prayers, I knew when to sit, stand, and kneel. I knew all the answers in CCD and went to Vacation Bible School every summer. At one point, I had the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds memorized. I played volleyball with the other CYO kids and went to CYO conferences. Short of going to a parochial, I was a good little Catholic girl.

When I was in high school, I remember feeling very uncomfortable about being Catholic. The things I was hearing about the church didn’t conform to what I thought it meant to be Christian, even if at that time I really had no idea what it meant to be Christian. Learning that the church hates gay people and that clergymen were molesting children fueled the fire of my crisis of faith. I already was having a difficult time at church: prayer was a struggle and I never felt close to God or that He even knew who I was, and if he did, it sounded like He really did hate my family. Religious people freaked me out and I knew that I didn’t want to be one of them (sometimes, I didn’t even want to be near them). I think the last time I went to church was Easter Sunday when I was 16. On my way home, I was right behind a car that was t-boned in an intersection. I told myself I couldn’t belong to a church that told me that the people I loved so much were sinners, so I never went back and my parents never objected.

I graduated from high school a year later and moved away to college. Some of my friends were religious, but on the whole, we never talked about God or religion. “Anthropology of Religion” was the closest thing to a discussion I came, but even that was in an academic context (and therefore safe, because it wasn’t about me or my theology). I was a little uncomfortable when friends prayed, really uncomfortable when a friend invited me to church, stayed away from religious organizations for community service (I served all through college at a local elementary school while some of my other friends volunteered for church organizations), and actively denounced religion from my life. I told myself and my friends that I didn’t need religion or God to know how to be a good person. In fact, I thought I would be better without it.

I was sitting in my dorm room one day (I think it was my sophomore year), and I saw a commercial for the United Church of Christ. I was skeptical, but a little bit curious. I didn’t think about researching it or going because I had already resolved that I didn’t need religion, but it still got me thinking. There was a part of me that was really needing or wanting something, but at the time, I couldn’t quite understand what that meant.

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