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December 11, 2006 / allyo

Choosing my religion*

The past two Sundays we’ve been going to church with my friend D and her family. MD and I were both raised Catholic and when I made my final break with that church in my 20s I knew that, even though I wanted to raise my child (when we had one) in some faith, I would never return to Catholicism.

We explored Unitarian Universalism off and on for a few years, and my complaint was more with the pastor than the church itself. I liked the cerebral quality of the services and especially appreciated the lack of adherence to THE one and only almighty God. But the pastor, well, when you’re leaving church and you’re carrying a 1 year old who is being especially good and cute and the pastor doesn’t acknowledge the child on your arm and gives you the barest of handshakes, that tells you something. At least, it told me that while the parishoners themselves were warm and welcoming, I was not going to find the family-centric community I was looking for.

If people got gold stars for hauling new people to church than my friend D’s would have to be upgraded to platinum. Even when she herself wasn’t attending regularly, she always offered her church as a remedy to my decade-long crisis of faith. Always gently and appropriately. When the need finally became so great that I sent her an email whose full text was, “iwanttogotochurchwithyou,” she was perfectly casual about it and so I found myself sitting through my first Methodist service on, appropriately enough, the first Sunday of Advent. And even more appropriately enough, at one point the pastor held up postcards that had been printed as an easy way of inviting friends or neighbors to church during the Christmas season. D and I grabbed each other and tried not to giggle out loud. I told her she should be proud for getting her homework in early.

The service is very similar to a Catholic Mass, but much less self-important and serious. Familiar enough that the rhythm was easy to pick up on, but so refreshing. Humor! Lay involvement! Kids on the alter! So close and yet so far from what I grew up with.

D’s dad is a pastor in a city a couple of hours from here, and my new pastor’s daughter works with him. MNP baptised D’s son, her dad baptised one of MNP’s grandchildren. There are bonds between these two churches that cannot exist in Catholicism. I’ve never supported the vow of celibacy required by Catholic priests for a number of reason, ranging from, it just doesn’t seem right to the difficulty the Church is experiencing in keeping the priesthood flush with new recruits. In fact, as a solution, I think that allowing priests to marry is even more crucial than allowing women priests. I support both, but I think the heart of the problem is the isolation priests experience.

Think of it. Think of two churches where priests have families and the layity is involved in multiple levels of adminstration, not just as volunteers during the service. Think about the bond, the relationships that exist and are strenghtened by this very structure. You can visualize these bonds as lines physically linking the two churches.

Then think of two Catholic parishes. The priest is isolated in the center, in a circle that keeps him at arms length. Contact is on his terms. Yes, it is his duty to serve his parish, his flock, but contact and relationships are limited. Bonds between parishes are few, and in fact, the relationship is often competitive as parishes struggle to keep their schools open or even to stay viable.

I’m not criticizing Catholics, rather, the structure of the Church. Even if I had been able to recocile my views on key issues such as abortion, birth control, or gay rights with those of the church, I would have still left because of the exclusion of layity in the administration and decision making at the parish level, the centralized power held by the Vatican – half a world and about a century away, and the isolation that permeates every facit of the Church.

This isn’t to say that my new church is perfect, or holds all the answers. My enthusiasm may wane, you never know. All I know is, I spent last week looking forward to going back on Sunday and in my years as a Catholic the only way I had that anticipation was if I were singing in the choir or playing an instrument or baking the communion bread. Never did I look forward to simply sitting in the pew.

*tm FriendD

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