Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I know I have a pretty even mix of church-goers and non-church-goers around here, and I like it that way. It reflects my own ambivalence. When I was growing up, we went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night--really, every time the church doors were open, we were there. There were definitely times when I hated it, but it wasn't always bad.

For one thing, it gave me a lifelong deep love of the old standard hymns. For another, we knew that church building as if it were our home, all the nooks and crannies and the little used closets, and the baptistry that was like a mini-swimming pool. Usually the baptistry was locked, but every once in awhile it would be open, and you could go stand in it--it was dry when it wasn't in use--and look out over the empty sanctuary and get a completely different perspective than the usual one from the pews.

But when I hit adolescence and church started to intrude on my plans for what I thought I should be able to do at church time, I started to resent it more and more. I had "Forsake not the gathering of yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25) thrown at me more times than I care to count. It wasn't until I was in college that it occurred to me that the writer of Hebrews' encouragement to stay in close contact with your fellow believers might have had little or nothing to do with the southern baptist round of organized church activities--sunday school, Girls in Action, interminable boring sermons, etc.

So I've spent a great deal of my adult life trying not to go to church too often, because I didn't want to get to the point where it became rote, just thoughtless repetition instead of something that's meaningful. Because it is still meaningful to me, in spite of everything. I've written several posts about why it's still important to me to go to church even though my belief system doesn't really match up with much of the stated purpose of our denomination (the second half of this one, and this one, for starters), so I won't get sidetracked about that right this minute, because that's not my point today.

And I am getting to the point, really. So, you will probably remember that I finally joined our church a couple of years ago after attending for 18 years without being a member--my small silent protest against our denomination's discrimination against the LGBT community. When they finally got rid of that, I joined. We've never been the most regular attenders--we average once or twice a month--but we're members in good standing.

And once I was a member, I lost my excuse for not being one of the lay leaders of the church. Our church is small--about 200 active members-- and in order for any few of us not to get burned out, all of us have to rotate through various responsibilities to keep the church running.

I did my part, for the most part--I volunteered in the nursery, I taught Sunday School (for the record, I am a terrible Sunday School teacher), I learned to run the sound board, I served on a couple of committees, we went on a mission trip to New Orleans after Katrina. But I was never a deacon or an elder, in spite of being asked many times (as everyone in our church has been), because I wasn't a member. And I was so grateful for that. Sitting through meetings is....  I'm sure it's one of the circles of hell. It has to be.

But once I finally joined, my excuse was gone, and I figured it was time to step up. So after giving it some thought, I decided I would be a deacon, because deacons actually do things, they do the work of the church--visiting the elderly shut-ins and those who are hospitalized, organizing food drives and delivering baskets of food to people, coordinating food for funerals, etc. So now I am in my first year of a three-year term as a deacon on the Hospital team. Maybe I will tell you more about that another time.

And then for a variety of reasons, about half the choir ended up deciding they didn't want to be in choir anymore, so we temporarily joined the choir to help out the lovely woman who is the choir director. (and ended up loving it, by the way, our choir is a hoot. a year later we are still there.) And then in a moment of what could only have been pure desperation, they asked me to help out with a temporary church website while our new one is being designed. And while I was doing that, they discovered I knew a bit about PowerPoint, so I was drafted to help with the presentation of the weekly small groups we're about to start.

So suddenly I am at church all the time. As anyone who is involved in church can tell you, it changes your experience of church to be in on all the little petty arguments, the endless debates, the hard work, the drudgery. You can no longer just waltz in the door and sit down and have your profound spiritual experience while our gorgeous, historic pipe organ plays, and then sashay back out again. You leave a bit of your sweat and blood every time you darken the door, and your attention might be just as much on hitting that C, B-natural, B-flat chromatic progression as it is on the actual words of the choir anthem.

But I'm discovering to my surprise that I don't really mind. There are a lot of  really great people that go to our church, and I'm getting to know them better and appreciate them more. In addition to the hard work, there's a lot of fun and laughter. It's amazing to see what we're actually doing in our community from the perspective of the people who are doing it. It's turning out OK.


  1. I liked being a deacon. It felt useful. And I like feeling useful. Right now I am totally immersed in the petty crap as I'm on the personnel committee since our head pastor is not doing his job and keeping others from doing their jobs and blowing smoke and flashing mirrors in case anyone figures it out. And Presbyterians are so incredibly deliberate and have to go through all the steps and yadda-yadda-yadda when really I'd like to just fire his ass. Grrrrr! But no one else was willing to step up and say what needed to be said and I like the place and people too much to watch it disintegrate over one person's slackitude.

    1. yeah, there's some stuff going on at our church, too. We had our annual congregational meeting last week and it was tedious--partly because of some messy stuff, but partly just because of the whole "decently and in order" thing. Good luck with the personnel committee!

  2. One of the very few gifts of the divorce is that we left the "thrice-weekly" church attendance behind. I especially resented Sunday night church because that was when wonderful world of Disney came on - a chance to watch movies that we couldn't go to because movie- going was a sin. (Like playing cards and dancing).
    To this day I feel smug every time we pass a church on Sunday evening on our way to the boat ramp for an evening sail.
    On another note, I think that church is especially hard for introverted children. It was yet another context in which we had to interact at a very superficial level with, often, children and adults that we never spent enough time with to really know.
    The book _Quiet_ really helped me to honor some of the struggles I have had with groups over the 50+ (almost 60 yikes) years of my life.

    1. Any time Dean has a vague feeling of dread he calls it the "wonderful world of Disney feeling" because that was the signal when he was a kid that the weekend was over and another week of school was about to start. Funny how that show is so iconic for people our age! I hadn't thought about introverted children and church, that is really interesting. I have _Quiet_ and it is even sitting on my bedside table (along with at least a dozen other books), but I've only read the introduction. I'll have to move it higher up in the pile.

    2. Oh Quiet is good. Really good for introverts. You'll like it.