Friday, February 10, 2012

This faith, by far

This is the age where they start to pull away from the church. I've seen this before, even lived it at this age. At 12, going on 13, Sunday School is a little too babyish and regular services are too boring. Earbaby is at this stage right now. I'm trying to figure out what to do about it.

Before EB's dad and I got married, we were both lapsed in our churchgoing, he a Catholic and I a Methodist, although I hadn't been to my church in many years. There are several excuses, working late on Saturday night, not connecting to the rest of the congregation, my feeling the pastor who left after I joined was not shown the grace he deserved after serving 12 years, the annoyance of not being able to find parking in the middle of town on a Sunday morning (there was no church lot) and a general feeling of apathy.

My husband hadn't attended church in years for anything other than christenings, weddings and funerals. He still believed, he just wasn't moved to find a church community of his own in his own neighborhood.

When we married, we didn't do it in a church because I felt that would be hypocritical. I wouldn't be allowed to marry in a Catholic church, not that I wanted to anyway, and going into a church just to get married by a minister to which there is no connection just didn't seem right. We went for a family affair, his brother-in-law was a Superior Court judge at the time and he performed the ceremony in our favorite park. It was beautiful and more personal than an anonymous minister in an anonymous church.

But when we decided to become parents, we also made a decision to raise our child in the Christian faith. Since I had no intention of converting to Catholicism (I'm way too liberal for their teachings), we decided we would raise our child Methodist. I knew of a church one town over but hadn't made my way there yet. I didn't know, since this was guaranteed an all-white church, if I should call and inquire about how I would be received, or just show up and prepare to be either welcomed or shunned.

My husband had no interest in going with me, he wanted to reconnect with his own faith, not convert to a new one. It was a decision that I respected and hasn't been a problem for either of us.

But the first time I went back to church was after my child was a month old. My older sister was here to help out with the new baby and she and I went together. There's strength in numbers, even if the number is only two. I talked to the pastor, a woman, and was welcomed, fairly warmly. The next week after my sister had returned home, I went back. But this time I brought even stronger reinforcements. I brought my baby.

Now Earbaby has been in this church since she was five weeks old. She has grown up knowing Sunday mornings are for church, but as she's grown up, other things sometimes get in the way. Vacations, late Saturday nights, gymnastics competitions --  all have reared their heads at times to change that staple, even if only for a week or two.

But church communities, like life itself, is one of movement and evolving. Many of the people who were there when EB and I came in have left. Some have moved, some have changed churches, a few have died. My first pastor there, who baptized EB at three months old, the week after I officially joined, has moved on. In fact there have been five pastors in the almost 13 years that we've been there. We are on the fifth one now. It has made for a lot of transitions for the youth in our ministry. And the population of the church is older. Someone said if the average age of your church is over 50, you have a dying church. Sometimes it seems our average population is about 112.

So I can understand why EB isn't as enthusiastic about church as I would like. She stopped going to Sunday School because she wanted to join the choir. She liked it for awhile, but some of the old hymns are uninspiring to say the least, and other new members turn the room into an old lady fest. I joined with her, but unless one of her friends comes, she feels trapped in a room of postmenopausal matrons. The choir director, who used to be her piano and voice teacher, is doing all she can to bring in more contemporary upbeat music, and become a reconciling church (welcoming gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people into our church with no hatred or exclusions), but every change in ministry, which comes roughly every three years, starts us all over again.

EB is discouraged. Now she attended Catholic school from the age of four until she entered seventh grade in September. She has sung, played the bells and even read in the Catholic church. She knows all the prayers, songs, everything. Her dad and I used to joke she was the most churched kid in the school.

When we had each of our two previous ministers, who were younger adults, EB used to think church was kind of fun, that they were kind of fun. But now she needs more engagement from the church community, and she's not getting it in her home church. When she talks about not wanting to go to choir (too many old ladies when her friend isn't there) and wanting to go with her dad to his service, I know that while she doesn't want to be Catholic, her church has nothing for her either.

I'm torn. As a lay leader, former Sunday School teacher and now choir member, I want her involvement with her church. I share her frustration, but I can't resolve her feelings that church right now is not for her. Part of this dilemma is that this is a normal time of discovery and self awareness and I will respect that. But I also know that changes  in any institution come from the inside and I want her to be there to be a part of our church growing and changing for the better.

 And yet ...

As a Methodist, in three or so years, EB will go through confirmation. She gets to decide if she wants to formally join the Methodist faith and become a full member of  the church. If our church doesn't start to grow and change, from the sleepy little group to one actively involved in the community especially the youth, she just may decide that church, at least this one, is not for her. I've already promised her that if things don't get better in the next year, we can start looking for another church home. That would break my heart, but I want her to be able to feel the presence of God, even if it's not in the church in which she was baptized and took her first steps.

This faith, by far is going to be one of the biggest challenges we'll face together this year. I hope I'm up to the task.

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