Monday, November 20, 2006

In Search of Community

Our family was invited to a bonfire at the church attended by one of the girls’ daycare teachers as well as someone I know from my 9 to 5. We all ate well and had a great time. While we were there, I kept thinking about how nice their community was. Oh, I’m sure that there are squabbles and disagreements just like there are at any congregation. That night, there was really a sense of togetherness. I really miss that.

Before I moved to Virginia, I belonged to a Catholic parish in an adjoining suburb of Grand Rapids. It was my home parish since I was five years old. I can’t say that I always felt that I belonged there. During my school years, I felt out of the loop because I didn’t attend the same school system as a majority of the kids my age. In high school it really didn’t matter because I attended my religion classes at my Catholic school. This parish became my community when I made the decision to go into teaching. I chose working with the youth group to get the required volunteer hours that I needed. It was through retreats and other get-togethers that Trista and then Mark became my best friends. During that time I felt closer to God than ever before or ever since.

Moving to Virginia was such a shock to me. There are very few Catholics here in comparison to Grand Rapids. Any of the churches in this area are a good 30 minutes from our home. I’ve been registered at just about all of those parishes at one time or another. Before Emma arrived, I did get pretty involved at a parish in Fincastle. It was nice, but the others were a good 25 years older than I was. It wasn’t the same.

Being a member of a community takes time. Volunteering in some form of ministry can put you on the fast track. Just attending Mass is not enough ~ especially when those Masses are few and far between. The priest suggested that I join the Mother’s group. I got excited to get involved. The only problem is that the Mother’s group is made up of stay-at-home moms. On their calendar of events, there wasn’t a single meeting that wouldn’t interfere with my work schedule. I don’t have the time or energy to form another group for working mothers. Right now I feel the need to be ministered to, not the other way around.

During the summer I experimented with attending a United Methodist church that was close to home. While the traditional service reminded me somewhat of a Catholic Mass (watered down, anyway – please don’t be offended if you are Methodist), I found the modern service to be engaging. They played praise and worship songs as well as what I gather are traditional Protestant hymns. Once a month they hold a communion service. The prayers leading up to communion are quite familiar. There was more reverence than I expected; but again, it felt watered down to me. That being said, it was treated as such a special experience that is often lacking in the Catholic church because you take for granted the “ordinary.” All in attendance were welcome to participate. I questioned what I should do over and over and ended up joining them. After I received communion, the pastor asked if Emma could, too. I agreed. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not. Emma felt that it was special and wanted to do it again.

This church has Sunday school for all ages. It would have been nicer if I knew the people better. Still, I felt comfortable enough to participate. It was nice to have an opportunity to continue to grow in my spirituality (recently it wouldn’t take much). I felt like I could be ministered to in that group. As a Catholic I feel sometimes that you’re on your own after Confirmation, unless you join the religious life. Being on your own isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of resources easily within reach. In fact, it’s gotten easier and easier in the Internet age. I’m just not comfortable alone. Prayer in a group can make me feel on fire. Alone, not so much. That’s interesting because I normally have very little difficulty starting a conversation. I can even be the entire conversation if I have to be. In God’s presence, chirp, chirp, chirp.

My experiment with the United Methodist church lasted exactly four weeks. After the communion service, we went on vacation. I got out of the habit and haven’t gone back. I guess the

The bonfire really started me thinking about finding a community to join and within which to actively participate. The people at that church were very inviting and I quickly felt at home. The kids loved the family center and Charity, the cat that has been adopted by the church. I’ve never been to a Baptist service before, but I can’t say that I’m comfortable with the idea of attending a Baptist church, let alone being a Baptist. Mark wrote a post that sums up why being a Baptist would be “too” Protestant for me.

I think that a reason why I don’t feel at home in a Catholic Church right now is due to the fact that I am unable to follow the its teachings on artificial birth control. On the grand scale, I understand why the teaching is. Still, my experience with Allison has frightened me away from my fertility. I’m a little less freaked out at the thought of another pregnancy, but I’m very, very far from being open to new life. I’m sure that I am wrong, but if God wanted me to have a third child, my second newborn would not have been Allison. Can I belong to a church when I knowingly go against such a mandate? I know that there are millions of Catholics who don’t give it another thought. I feel guilty – but not repentant – about it anytime I walk into church. It’s what I think about when I am walking to receive Communion. I believe in the Apostle’s Creed – every word of it. That is the bottom line of what you have to believe. Still, the Church’s stance on birth control is every where. You can’t subscriber to a Catholic magazine without it being mentioned in every third issue. For me it’s kind of the same thing I’m struggling against with my weight loss ~ If I’m not 100% perfect, there’s no need to continue.

So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I can’t believe that these experiences outside of Catholicism are for naught. I’m sure that I’m being led somewhere. I just don’t know where yet. Someday I hope to find that community I’m looking for. Maybe it will find me.


DWC said...

That community IS rather cozy, but I grew up around Baptists and they're the reason I'm agnostic. Not that the people were bad, but the sermons were just too hysterical and phobic for my tastes. Generally, I find churches to be too preachy!

Anonymous said...

Growing up as a baptist was a totally different experience for me from what as described by Mark. I guess I would feel uncomfortable in a Catholic church, but would be open to know that I should not put down their beliefs. I guess knowing that Christ is my Savior and Lord and that when I die I will spend eternity in heaven is all that matters. In the end, I think all denominations are racing for the same goal - a life with God in Heaven!