Life After Church is a recurring PostBourgie feature, in which PB’s writers discuss their evolving ideas about faith and religion. (See previous entries in this series from Stacia here and here, from Monica here, from Alisa here, and from Shani here.) Sean Campbell is a friend of the blog, and blogs at his own site, Melanism.com, where this post originally appeared. Recently, he became engaged to the fantastic Cindy Mosqueda, another blogger and member of the PB extended family.
When Cindy’s mom asked if I was Catholic, I said “No but I went to Catholic school so I’m trained.” Looking into RCIA to convert to Catholicism in time for the wedding has made me think about my experiences with religion. I went the Catholic school from kindergarten on but I also went to a Lutheran church until high school.
At St. Brigid’s, where I went from kindergarten until high school, there were always a bunch of kids who went there who weren’t Catholic. I didn’t know if there was anything wrong with the local public schools but I know that none of the Caribbean families in my suburb wanted to send their kids there if they could control it. It wasn’t a big deal. Just more kids who stayed in the pews during Communion during the occasional Mass.
On Sundays, I would get dropped off at Redeemer Lutheran Church for Sunday School. I remember my brother going with me when I was little but eventually he just stopped waking up in the morning to go. I would ask my mother why she didn’t go and she said that she wasn’t Lutheran. When I asked why I’m Lutheran, she said because your father is. However, I could probably count on my one hand how many times my father actually set foot inside that church. I don’t recall ever asking him why he never went, I just knew I had to go and I had no say in the matter. I would get dropped off in the morning, attend Sunday School, play with some of the kids then my father would pick me up and take me home. I was felt weird because, for the most part, the other kids were there with their parents and I was just by myself. Also, my father would be late more than not so I’d be in the parking lot watching the other kids leave with their parents and then sit out there by myself until he showed up.
The only advantage to double duty was I always got A’s in Religion. I probably was more familiar with the Bible than any of my classmates. I actually liked the Bible when I was little. The one we read in Sunday School had little stick figure drawings in them highlighting the action. As a growing comic book fan, this appealed to me.
Around 7th grade, I started attending Confirmation class on Wednesdays. I was looking forward to Confirmation because I thought my parents would finally let me stop going to church. My brother stopped going to church after his Confirmation so, in my mind, the finish line was in sight. During one of the classes, I asked my pastor a question that it had never occurred to me to ask: What’s the difference? I spent eight years attending both Catholic and Lutheran mass and there was no discernible difference to my young eyes. They read the same Bible. I knew that, unlike Catholic priest, Lutheran clerics could get married (two points for Lutherans) but I wanted to know if there was anything else. He told me that it was a very good question and went on a long rant about the origins of Lutheranism which I started tuning out and then said, if you want to keep it simple, Catholics practice seven sacraments while the Lutheran church only considers Baptism and Eucharist (Communion) has true sacraments. That’s it? The way the pastor explained it, he made a great argument for their belief but in my mind, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. I viewed it as a simple disagreement that had been blown out of proportion. I never looked at either religion the same.
I wish I could say that the reason I didn’t get confirmed and stopped going to church altogether was because of some high-minded ideological disagreement I had with the governing body of the church and it’s belief system. That would be a great story to tell. The truth is my parents got home too late to take me to Confirmation class. My father who worked in the city got stuck late at work one Wednesday night. I wasn’t really friends with anyone in my Confirmation class and my father, having never been in the church, didn’t know anyone to call. This was pre-cell phones so I couldn’t reach my mother who was probably at the gym. So I missed class. I didn’t think anything of it but when Sunday rolled around, my father said I didn’t have to go. Since my father wouldn’t let me skip church for anything short of illness, I didn’t ask questions and stayed in bed looking forward to playing with my friends on Sunday instead of going to church. Wednesday came back around and my father wasn’t home to take me again. After awhile, I figured it out. Instead of having to explain why I missed class to the pastor, my father made a unilateral decision that I just wasn’t going to church anymore. In my youth, I just saw the shortsighted benefits of being able to watch Wednesday night television and not having to get up early on Sundays. Eventually, it started to annoy me. It was so important for me to go all those years and then, just like that, it was over. I was also annoyed that I never got to experience Communion (Lutherans don’t get Communion until after Confirmation) after watching my Catholic classmates receive the body and blood of Christ for years.
While I was away at college, my mother would embrace her Episcopalian roots but, in my bitterness, I refused to go to church with her no matter how many times she asked. I told her if it wasn’t important enough for you to take me to my church, why would I go to yours?
Twenty years later, I’m looking to join the church I spent most of my childhood learning about. I wonder if it will be strange to be in church and be a participant instead of an observer.