Re-Visiting Church: A Few Weeks Later

On the first Sunday of April, I went to my “home” church for the first time in over two years. It was my aunt and my uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary that weekend, and a part of the Sunday morning service at church was dedicated to the occasion. I wanted to be there with my family, so that is why I decided to attend.
For me, going to a special event such as this isn’t usually a big deal. I’ve been to probably a dozen weddings, and countless funerals, bridal and baby showers, and baptismal services. I’ve been to hundreds of church services, at many different churches. This time, however, was quite different, because over the course of the last six years, my transition away from Christianity has also included a big step away from the church where I grew up.
I felt a bit awkward on that Sunday morning, but also pleasantly distracted and comforted by the realization that I’d be surrounded by my immediate family (who, although they do not always “get” my deconversion, do love and support me and are trying to gain a better understanding of where I’m at now), my aunt and my uncle, and my cousin (who can relate to my feelings of being “an outsider” at the church).
As planned, I wore fancy earrings and kept my hair down — something I never did six years ago — and, of course, I also safety-pinned the V-neck of my shirt, because it was just a tad too low, according to my “good Christian girl” background.
I entered the building with my parents and my brother’s wife, and was immediately greeted with the expected, “Tania! Haven’t seen you in a long time!” “How ARE you?” “Good to see you.” It was nice to see some of the people again and not feel like a complete stranger in a place. And yet, it also felt superficial — I know that a million things have happened since I last stepped foot in the church over two years ago, and my “place” there is so different now than it used to be.
I decided to stick to the “socially acceptable” thing to do in situations like this, so I smiled and kept my answers brief: “Oh, I’m doing all right…yes, still living in the same place…finally have a weekend off…crazy how time flies, isn’t it?” It wasn’t exactly the time or the place to launch into a big spiel about the challenges of leaving church, cognitive biases and logical fallacies, the place of Christianity in the Roman Empire, how Jesus was just one of the many dying and rising gods of the Middle East, and how the whole thing no longer makes sense to me.
As we walked into the sanctuary, a small group of people played worship music at the front. As I heard the music, sat down in my “usual” pew, and took in the surroundings, my thoughts floated, interestingly, to the kitchen table of a good friend of mine. I choked up a bit as I recalled the hours and hours during which we wondered, confessed, cried, and laughed about our similar experiences of leaving behind our religious faith. We’d talk about the challenges, the new insights, the bizarre things we no longer believe or emphasize so strongly. Sitting in the pew that morning, I thought about the many times, especially at the beginning of my deconversion, when I could open up to acquaintances or co-workers and say, “Oh, wow, you think that way, too?” I thought about those little things that really were not so little — they helped me to realize that I was not alone or completely crazy and that I might eventually be okay.
After the introductory music, we listened to the announcements and sang some hymns (I held my hymnal open to the appropriate page, but did not sing along). The choir sang beautifully, as usual, and then the 50th wedding anniversary was acknowledged with a plaque and a special song by the choir. The sermon was based on John 9, about a blind man who was healed by Jesus. The pastor talked about people being blind — and, especially, “spiritually blind.” He talked about being receptive to the light that comes from God and the importance of abandoning the darkness that comes from all those worldly things out there. It was interesting to observe my own reaction to the sermon and to compare it to the way in which the pre-deconversion Tania would have reacted. I have learned to take things (such as this sermon) more lightly, to question authority figures such as pastors, to see the bigger picture, to decide for myself how much weight to give these ideas, and, ultimately, how to live my own life.
We had lunch in the church basement after the service, and that was all right. I mostly talked with my family, although I did chat with others here and there and made a point of talking to a couple of people I’d recently felt awkward around. My parents drove me back to Kelowna after the service, and, relieved and content, I carried on with the day.
In the years to come, I will probably always miss church and all that was involved with the church experience. Looking back on previous chapters of our lives, we can all see that there are some things that just won’t ever happen again (either in a certain place, with a certain person, or with a general naivete about all aspects of life) and it can be a bit painful.  I — yes, all of us — miss things of the past, and sometimes there is not a thing we can do to re-capture them. So, what to do? In this case, I think back on the church experience, and I smile at the memories. And then, without lingering too much on that, I pick up my phone and call my mom. I go for a long walk or a glass of wine. I check my email and reply to a message from a new friend. I go the library and pick up a book about astronomy or an issue of Scientific American Mind magazine — things that I never would have read six years ago. I take in my surroundings — what is here, now — and remind myself to focus on what’s real to me now. I see that I no longer need all those “church things” to feel happy, safe, purposeful, good.
So, the question now is, Would I go to my “home” church again? Probably not, or at least not anytime soon, except for a wedding or a funeral. I’ve got enough other things going on.