Church Going

by Brian

I quit being a churchgoer sometime during the wintery months of early 2003.

When certain people asked I told them my decision was logistical. We’d just moved a considerable distance south of the big city and driving sixty miles round trip to attend the church we had been a part of for many years no longer made sense. Besides, this area is well known for an overabundance of churches. We’d find something closer that would meet our churchgoing needs.

And we did shop around. I never felt comfortable in our little community’s United Methodist church. The rotating pastoral staff that seems to be the norm for village parishes irritated me. And the people were just too acquiescent. It seemed that no one had any questions left to ask. I did make the attempt at integrating myself by joining a small group study of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I spent the first meeting huddled in a very feng shui basement watching Shadowlands with three women who came for the coffee and little else. I found better things to do and never went back.

My last serious attempt at being a part of church came in late 2002 at a largish missionary church about fifteen miles north. The pastor wore loafers and pine green cardigan sweaters. Very down to earth and I liked him immediately. He seemed to take seriously the need to make the message applicable and used clips from contemporary movies and passages from both culturally relevant and obscure books to illustrate his sermons. I didn’t always agree with him, but he usually left me thinking. Unfortunately, as often happens in bigger congregations, I eventually found him to be aloof and unapproachable. He literally walked away from me one Sunday morning as I stood amidst the small throng of backslappers extending a hand his direction. Apparently he had other fish to fry. And, once again, I tried to find my place by joining a group of young adults for a study class that met prior to the worship service. Sunday school they used to call it. One couple in the class even invited me and mine over for dinner and conversation. We hit it off nicely and enjoyed their hospitality.

But it all began to feel like the same old game. Church had felt like a game to me for many years and I guess I eventually grew weary of playing along

Kathy over at The Carnival in My Head recently wrote about returning to her former church, her Egypt, for a memorial service. Throughout her blog she explains so much more passionately than I ever could about what life in the church can become when we choose to peek behind the Power Point screen and see it simply as an organization designed by a people in need of something far safer than faith. As I’ve written before, faith is risky business and who needs it when we can surround ourselves with traditions and programs that keep us hopping from one task to the next without challenging our minds. Far easier to consume is the three point sermon and monotonous worship chorus than the feast of a life lived on the edge of a quiet and contemplative uncertainty.

Perhaps I’ll write more about this in the days ahead. One’s belief system, our worldview if you will, and how it is attained is sometimes a hazardous subject to ponder. Trust me on this!  And to inscribe our worldview for others to consider and evaluate?  Lunacy!  There’s an air of creedalism and pride that can encroach in such missives and, as one who cannot claim to have any solid answers, I’m hesitant to spill the beans. We’ll see . . .

For now, I leave you with a poem I found in The Portable Atheist titled “Church Going” written by Philip Larkin . . .

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation? marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these? for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round

[photo credit]