Literally as long as I can remember church has been a part of my life. When I was born, my dad was the senior high youth minister at a large United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. We moved a few times throughout my childhood, but Daddy’s job was always in a local church or to do with something on a more national church level. Unless we were sick, skipping church was not an option.
I started going to a week-long church camp every summer from the time I was a rising 4th grader until I was a rising 9th grader. I didn’t want to go after that because that group, that week was the pinnacle of what it could be. We got so close so quickly and shared so much…anything after that would have been a let down.
I went through Confirmation Class when I was in 6th Grade – I might not have been a hundred percent sure about things, but in the back of my head, I worried about how it would look if I didn’t go through with it. I mean, part of me wanted to, but part of me was not sure. Still, I enjoyed the activities and my leaders in youth group, and I loved singing in youth choir – so I stayed.
Until we got a new youth director who made a lot of changes. Granted, part of those – specifically the senior highs needing new counselors (the couple who had been our counselors for a few years split up and neither remained with us even as an individual) – were not his fault. But rather than bringing in people from church who knew us, knew what we were about, and who we would have at least known, he brought in friends of his who…well, today we’d call them “crunchy” in a very ironic way. Looking back, I’m not sure if they even had any kind of faith background. But basically I didn’t like the way things were going, and I fussed. And fussed. And finally got permission to go home after choir. The first Sunday everyone was like “Where are you going?” and I said “I don’t have to stay. I get to leave after choir now!” The next week, a lot more people left after choir.
We moved right after I graduated high school, and for the first time we got to choose a church rather than just going where Daddy was working. I had some input, but I let my parents and sister make the decision because I was leaving for college and they were the ones who’d be there week after week. I was happy with where we chose.
In college, I didn’t have a car, so if I wanted to “do church” my options were walking to the little United Methodist Church near the campus (that lasted a whole week – I brought the median age to around 75 (maybe), and they had a tiny electric (read: non-pipe) organ), riding with a friend to a Baptist Church (no thanks…I like to be able to have a voice and a brain as a woman), or just doing the Student Christian Association meetings on campus (which is what I did up until Senior year when I just quit that because I wasn’t comfortable with the direction it was going).
After college, I moved home for a bit and started going to the church we’d decided on. I was singing in the adult choir and enjoyed that. I was in a young adult Sunday School class and it was ok, but it was quickly turning into a “Couples on one side, Singles on the other” kind of thing, so soon I was only going for choir. And then even that became an internal struggle for me.
Mom and Daddy and I had a long talk, and they both said that if I wanted to look at other churches, I was welcome to. I knew what I didn’t want – that was easy. I knew that I was attracted to the rituals and liturgy in the Roman Catholic church, but I wasn’t comfortable with all the restrictions and regulations – especially around my body and choices that should be mine. I vaguely remembered going to Ash Wednesday service with a friend on my college campus early in the morning – it was done by an Episcopal priest. I remembered liking that, so I went to an Episcopal Church one Sunday. It was moving in the right direction, but not quite. The next, I went to another and found my home.
I went through their catechism class and was confirmed April 15, 1995. (Because the United Methodist Church doesn’t do confirmation by a bishop, I was confirmed rather than received.) I became very involved in my church in Nashville – helping with the catechism class and doing some other things. And within a couple of years I found myself looking at seminary.
Not for ordination. I was pretty clear that my path was not that (even if I’d been clear, the bishop in Tennessee at that time was not really 100% on board with women’s ordination). But a lay theology degree and doing something like Christian Education or Youth Ministry? That felt right. I looked at some options, including General Theological Seminary in NYC. When I came to visit that, I stayed with my priest’s daughter and we went to her church – a church in the Chelsea area of New York City. A friend from my church in Nashville had moved to NYC and went there also.
Ultimately I decided on Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA. I had a 2-year program which included an “internship” at a church where I largely worked with the youth program. My first job out of seminary was at a church in Raleigh, NC – my first priority was righting the youth program which had pretty much gone off the rails due to a disastrous attempt at a curriculum which, while amazing, needed to be implemented in a specific, prayerful, and timely way. I loved those kids, and the cumulation of my time with them was a mission trip to Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
Because I really wanted to focus on Youth Ministry, and that church needed someone to do Children as well and wanted my focus to shift a bit from the Youth program, I had a long talk with the rector and got his blessing to look at other possible jobs. Which led me to a church outside Chicago, IL. In addition to that church I was very involved in the Diocesan Youth Ministry activities and made some very good friends. Unfortunately due to budget issues that position ended.
Another job search ensued and I landed at a United Methodist Church in the Northern Virginia area. And ultimately that turned out to not be a good fit either for myself or for the church – part of which could have been avoided had the search committee more accurately reflected the congregation.
At that point I found a job at KinderCare and Starbucks and just avoided church for a while. Twice burned (even if one was strictly budgetary) made me pretty hesitant to go back. But slowly things started becoming clear – personally (sexuality-wise) as well as church-wise, and I decided to go to a parish in DC that I’d visited before and liked. As it turned out, thanks to the Metro I was getting out of the subway closest to it just after service had started. I’m weird in that I don’t like walking in late to service. I’d looked online and knew there was another Episcopal church in the same area, and their service started later. I could make it!
I walked in and discovered that an acquaintance from seminary – she graduated my first year – was the rector there! It did not take long for me to feel at home there and become involved.
Then I was accepted into the Teaching Fellows program in NYC and knew I’d be moving. One of my first priorities was to find a church home, so I pretty much immediately started visiting around. I liked some that I visited, but nothing really clicked. I got a postcard from the contingency from St. Bart’s in the Pride march and investigated them. Their daytime service was a little too “corporate” for me, but they had this evening service that was a lot more experimental and I loved it. That became home for a while. Until the priest in charge of that service got a job in San Francisco and that service was going on hiatus – with no foreseeable restart date. I tried the morning services again, but they just never felt right. So it was time to explore again.
And I found my way to the same little parish I’d visited back when I was looking at seminaries – Holy Apostles. And found home. I loved the people there. I loved the music, the liturgy, the whole ethos of the place. And then some changes in clergy happened and home didn’t feel so much like home. It didn’t feel horrible, but it wasn’t the same, and it was different enough it just wasn’t right for me.
So I quit church again for a while. Until Easter a few years ago when I felt like I wanted – no, needed to find a place. Things were still pretty much the same where I had been, so that was a no-go. Maybe go back to the United Methodist Church? I knew about the Reconciling Ministries Network through my dad, so I went to their website and found a few member churches in the NYC area. One I liked their Taize service during the week, but not so much their Sunday service. One was too far away for me to reliably be able to get there.
One felt ok…not a perfect fit, but I thought maybe I could figure out a way to make it comfortable. I liked the clergy, and I liked most of the people I met. I really tried – I got involved on a couple of committees, did some special events…but something never really felt right. More and more I was leaving worship wondering if I’d been at a worship service or a political rally. Not that I don’t think churches have a place in social justice issues – I 100% do. But I also don’t believe that worship should be specifically about that. Committees, non-Sunday meetings, etc. are one thing – even bringing a bit of current events into the sermon…but not make it the whole sermon. It’s hard to explain – it was just too much “look how progressive we are” and too little “we worship to equip ourselves to go out and be warriors for justice”. Does that make sense? It just didn’t feel right for me as a church home.
And so…I left. Didn’t go anywhere for a while. And then one day I found myself walking by an Episcopal church where i knew the rector. Started going there and really tried…but it just never felt welcoming other than by the clergy. I found myself going there less and less often and going to TaeKwonDo more and more often on Sundays.
And on weekends when the dojang was closed?
I found myself going back to that Episcopal church I’d been at the longest in NYC. That first one I’d visited so long ago. The other one where I was technically still a member had an evening service that I liked…but I found myself skipping it more often than not, using the excuse that I was tired and needed to get ready for school the next day.
Then Easter approached this year, and I really felt drawn to go to an Easter Vigil…and went back to Holy Apostles. And went on Easter. And with some thought and prayer, I knew by the Sunday after Easter that I was back home. Got the “reactivate” button clicked so I’m official.
We have a new rector, who I really like. And I really like the other clergy. But I’ve learned through all my wandering that it’s not about them. It can’t be. It’s about the people in the congregation, the way you’re accepted and loved and drawn in. The way you become family. It’s…home.
In a couple of months, we’ll have our annual visit by the bishop. At that service there will possibly be confirmations or receptions (people from the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and I think the Eastern Orthodox Church who have been confirmed in their tradition are received), and there is the possibility of reaffirmation on a personal level. Technically every time there is a baptism or at certain other services, we all renew our baptismal vows, but this would be more on an individual level. I’m prayerfully considering doing this – I’ll likely email our rector and associate and talk with them about it.
But after all my wandering, it’s kind of feeling like a right decision. A way to definitively say to all “I’m home.”