There was a time when my relationship with The Church wasn’t so complicated. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in a small town in coastal Georgia. My dad was/is a deacon and my mom was a deaconess and sang in the gospel choir. My older brother and sister (and I) served on the usher board and Sunday School secretary. As a high schooler, I taught the k-12 kids during Sunday School. The people at church were (and still are) family.
I remember group trips to Dairy Queen after Sunday school, especially in the summer. The annual church trip to Six Flags. Looking forward to being picked up by the church van on Sundays and hanging out with my friends. Or, Wednesday night youth choir practices where we joked and learned new songs. Afterward, none of us wanted to be the first to go home. We wanted to stretch out the joy of hanging out together as much as possible. As a result, the kid that lived the farthest away was the one often taken home first so all of us could enjoy that 20-25 minute ride together.
We laughed, sang, and even cried together. When a teenager in our group, Clyde, was in a terrible accident and left paralyzed, we got a card and visited him in the hospital. I held the hand of my friend Dominick at the doctor when there was serious concern about his vision. Or, how I felt my knees buckle underneath me when I learned, a few years ago, that my church friend Donnell died unexpectedly.
These were the same people who helped me through the pain of losing my mom. They stepped up and out to give me support during that summer when I took care of her at home. Then, when she went into the hospital, they sat with her so I could have a break and be a 20 year old.
These are my memories. This is my community. They are a big reason why, from time to time, I will visit my hometown.
It was hard, as I became an adult, to understand people’s animosity toward The Church and the Christian faith. I didn’t get it. But then, my experience was not their experience. I had to learn to listen to understand rather than brush aside or dismiss their words and their feelings. I very likely hurt a lot of people like that and for that I will always be sorry.
I spent most of my late teens and 20s floating in and out of church. I was in college and then grad school. I enjoyed that taste of freedom. Not waking up early on Sunday to go to church. It was a second Saturday.
It was a move to a new city (Philadelphia) + heartbreak that drove me back to church.
I found Antioch via a Google Search. I wanted to know what churches were around me in West Philadelphia. Turns out, it was in a colorful building less than a one mile walk from where I lived.
I found a different home. A more adult community and, most importantly, my faith deepened. For me, The Church, up until that point, was about community. Faith was second, a distant second. I had an awareness of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit but who they were in relation to my life was a *Kanye shrug*
It was at Antioch in Philadelphia that they met me where I was and I learned who I am.
I was challenged to question things. To read the Bible for myself. To admit and accept my imperfect, broken spaces. I found people, black women especially, who spurred me on in the faith. I laughed with them. I cried with them. I listened to their stories and they listened to mine.
A series of events, in rapid succession, took me away from this church home and out of Philly.
I kept reading the Bible but felt disconnected, disjointed, and lost.
In Austin, I searched for a church home. But, I was trying to recapture that feeling. Nurse that heartbreak of leaving. I went to The Well. It was a younger church still getting off the ground. Members were mostly younger too. I felt out of place.
I formed relationships. I made friends. We went out for lunch, saw movies together, even took days off together to have a “treat yo self” day of swimming and lunch.
I couldn’t, however, escape the feeling. That feeling of disconnect. Of moving through my life in a kind of fog. Feeling the pain so acutely that it blotted out all other emotions.
I kept asking, where are you God?
I use to judge people who said they believed but didn’t go to church. (For that, I truly am sorry for that judgement.) The Well is a great church but it wasn’t for me and the more I tried to force the fit the worse I felt.
I decided to leave. Rather than ghosting, I verbalized my intent. Met with the pastor and we had a long, hard conversation about it. It ended with well wishes and a prayer.
In lieu of going to church, I committed to experiencing God where I was. It was in standing alone that I saw I was not alone. I spent my Sunday mornings/early afternoon posted up in a local west Austin coffee shop and read my bible. I cross-referenced with a bible commentary and turned to internet research to fill in the gaps. I began and ended each bible study with a prayer.
I cried, I learned, and I grew. Austin was also the site of my political awakening. Now my faith intertwined with social justice. I had more questions. I searched for the answers and I prayed. I asked God why? how?
Explain. In some ways, I got answers. For others, I’m still waiting.
For 2.5 years spent “outside The Church,” I found God and faith all-around me. It was in the bible study. It was in maintaining my friendships from The Well. It was in long, winding conversations with my Christian roommate while we talked racism, social justice, homophobia, and transphobia. It was in finding an online community (#slatespeak).
From Austin to Detroit, I still haven’t found a church home. The more I grow in my faith the more dissatisfied I become at see what “The Church” has become. I see the cracks. I see the flaws. I see the self-righteousness. The judgement.
I still ask God, on occasion, for a church home but perhaps I’ve been wrong in my thinking. What is The Church but a community?
A community of believers holding each other accountable. Striving to be better people. To see need and help.