I’m taking a sick day from church. God, the Internet, or maybe my new phone clearly doesn’t want me to write a detailed post about my thoughts right now, because I had one all written up and it got deleted somehow. Oh well.
So I missed church again through a combination of factors. I’m still trying keep my diet in line with not bothering my stomach. I’m feeling increasingly blue as the daylight dies. What I’d like to do is finish up the year with some more opinion pieces and thoughts. It seems less likely I will get to church regularly in December (or at all), so I’m scheduling my next new church for January. Feel free to jump in with comments on any post you’d like to discuss. I like that type of thing. Or just give a shoutout. I like that too.
For now here is some religious humor: We know that Noah got on the ark with his three sons; Shem Ham, and Japheth. Also included were their wives, who are not named in the bible. But we do know at least one of their names. What, you never heard of Joan- “of ark”?
I find myself wanting to reflect on where I am with this project overall. I don’t want change it, but I’m looking for something cohesive about the last seven weeks that hold them together in some way. Some of my observations so far may be a good start:
Assumptions are powerful.
Part of showing up to a church for the first time means people make assumptions about you. Who are you? What are you doing there? What do you want? And I’m not saying assumptions are all bad. We make assumptions all the time. Someone has long, styled hair, a curvy body and wears lipstick, you assume they are a female. We rarely assume gender incorrectly and it would be difficult to interact with someone if we didn’t make a few assumptions about them. Living in an area populated by English speakers, I wouldn’t start talking in Spanish to someone new I’ve just met. I assume they speak English. So far I’m correct. As far as my project goes, there have clearly been assumptions made each and every Sunday I’ve shown up at a new place. At the very first church I visited I was told (as a selling point) that the church has “plenty of single young ladies”. I have to believe this was because they assumed I was a single young lady and wanted peers. Well, I look young and showed up alone. It’s not like I’m offended, it’s just interesting to note. Another big assumption made several times over is regarding the nature of my search. What do I want in showing up at a new church? The assumption: I want a spiritual home. Again, it’s not like I’m offended. Most people going to a church for the first time want this. In a way, I’m not reviewing churches at all. I’m reviewing how churches treat newcomers. I have welcome packets from nearly all the churches I visited. They are all oriented towards new members. Many of them use the word ‘home’ or ‘welcome’. When I go up to the pastor after service they (usually) try to assume intelligently and not guess in the dark, often asking my religious background. I tell them I was raised Catholic. The natural guess from that alone is that I am looking for a new version of Christianity. Many pastors follow up by asking what I am looking for. Some places this also happens with others in the congregation. I like the questions, because they help minimize assumptions. I usually say I’m doing a personal project to visit area Christian churches and learn. Once I actually said learn things and teach things. Which brings me to my next observation,
I like churches that assume I’m smart
This is not to say I want a church to recognize that I’m more intelligent than the average person. Of course I think that I am (don’t we all?) but comparison with others is not what I’m talking about. I really want a church that recognizes the people inside as smart enough to know things regarding God and Jesus. This is a thing I definitely dislike about my Catholic heritage. The way the church is structured is very formal. There are various ranks starting at the parishioner and ending with the Pope. Each is supposed to have more knowledge and answers, making the people stupid, and the Pope infallible. A woman who works at a Catholic church I used to attend once told me that as a child she was not allowed to read the bible. The Catholic church at the time discouraged it; the idea being that without guidance of a priest or other clergy member, the casual bible reader might misinterpret it to their own detriment. I don’t know how far this really went. I read the bible as a child, at least a junior version. And I had the real thing available to me since middle school. But that’s getting off track. My point is, some churches act like their members are stupid. I like it best when I churches act like their members are smart. This, as most of my observations, is hard to judge based on a single visit. There are some good clues though. I like getting encouragement to read the bible myself. I really appreciate a sermon that goes into some depth historically. And I love it when those I talk to seem to view my project in a positive light. Then I know they trust me to be able get it right on my own, rather than needing to return to their church in order to escape damnation. I guess the biggest plus to having a church assume you are smart is the aspect of learning vs teaching. I think it’s maybe possible that I could have something to teach others who are different from me. I want this project to not only be me learning new things, but teaching others new things. I may be just dreaming about this last part, but it’s my wish that others can be open to listening to what I say, as I’m open to listening to what they say.
Where does this leave me?
Well, I’m not sure. My project continues hopefully next Sunday when I am feeling in normal health. I’m ready to hit a couple of churches more in my original tradition. I’ve rarely done a Catholic church as a stand-alone, so that will be something to note for sure. I definitely will have a better idea what to expect there than churches I’ve never heard of before. I will try not to get too many expectations in my head though, and just let the experience be what it is. I am thinking of contacting several churches I’ve been to and sharing the blog address. It might benefit them to have an account of how I felt as a visitor, especially if there were negatives. A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that criticism doesn’t have to be automatically negative. For one thing, it can help you improve. And it could be seen as a sign of respect. If you really didn’t care about a thing, you wouldn’t be bothering. I remember saying something very similar to a friend of mine in a leadership position. He was directing me and I decided to be bold enough to tell him what he was doing wrong, instead of just assuming he had somehow turned into a jerk. I said, “You are my friend and I’m letting you know because of that reason. Otherwise I would just ignore you. I don’t want to do that.” I cared for this person and wanted him to be better. And I care about Christian groups in my area. If I didn’t, I would just ignore them. I don’t want to do that.
Here’s The Project:
I plan to visit all churches in my immediate area of any Christian variety. I will visit each church just once (for now) doing just one church per Sunday as I am able. I’ve decided to restrict myself to services on Sunday morning as those at other times can sometimes have a slightly different aim, and also because Sunday morning is generally the easiest time for me to attend. I will work outwards from my house starting with the church closest to me and ending with the farthest church, in distance order as well as I can figure. At this time I’m limiting my outward spiral to a ten mile radius (so far my calculations suggest this will take over a year, perhaps over two). After that I will decide how to proceed, if I still want to. I won’t leave any church out, even if I’ve been to it before. Repeats will occur only if I feel there is more to see at a particular church that I cannot obtain conveniently some other time.* I will record my immpressions from the visits on paper and later in this blog. This will be an overview of the faith communities in my area. It is not meant to be a review of each church, because I do not think a single visit would be enough to properly judge the merits or problems of a particular church.
I’ve been depressed for some time regarding my lack of spiritual connection with others. I’m not currently attending a church, something I may or may not explain later. At times I’ve tried searching for a ‘spiritual home’, but with my changing views and the swapping of pastors that happens in every church I’ve ever been to, I’m starting to wonder if that’s something I could realistically find.
Maybe the answer is more dynamic than that. Perhaps I don’t need to limit myself with a connection to just one church when it’s possible to connect with several. I don’t expect a project like this to find me a spiritual home. I guess I really think my spiritual home is inside me. But this project may give me more of what I crave: connection with faith that involves other people. Or, it could just inform me about the communities in my area without anything deeper happening for me. I’m not sure what to expect, and I know I’m potentially exposing myself to some really unfamiliar territory, which is scary. But I’m going to give it a try. If it works well I’d like to devote a blog specifically to this journey and even open it up to comments from anyone interested. (PS: this is that blog! exciting right?)
If there is a choice, I plan to attend the later service on Sunday, mostly because I work a second shift job and do not get to bed until late.
I will wear comfortable clothing that is not particularly dressy. I think that if any church has a real problem with me dressed casually, they don’t want me, just my clothes, and I’m not down with that. I don’t anticipate a problem with this. I hope I’m not surprised.
I will not give anything to the offering at each church. I thought about this for a while, but finally made up my mind because: 1) I donate money outside of church to causes I feel are worthwhile. 2) Some churches do not expect money from those who aren’t regular members. 3) I have no way of knowing how much the church might expect or need or what percentage goes to fund what. I would want to give an appropriate amount and the mental stuff I’d have to do to decide on a case by case basis is already hurting my brain. and 4) As with the clothing thing, I’d want to think the members of each church would welcome me regardless of how much money I might bring in with me.
Updated in part 1/6/12
Updated again 4/14/12*