Yup, and the door hit me on the way out. . . .

I don’t talk about my useless graduate degree much.  Mostly because it is raw, painful and probably the only real regret in my life.  The worst part of the entire experience happened this week: Holy Week. I don’t talk about it a ton … a lot of it doesn’t have words as much as just powerful emotions that I (very rarely) try to untangle.  I can’t tell you what the exact dates – meh, it was Holy Week and I don’t feel like looking it up on the calendar.

I used to love Maude Thursday: for me, it was/is one of the most forgotten aspects of the Christian story.  For me, it was the part of the tradition that allowed me the deepest point of connection: you know you are going to be betrayed (we’ve ALL been there), you know there is nothing you can do about it and you know the result is going to, well, suck. It’s the car spinning at you that you can’t avoid and you hope that everything will be ok (and in the story, well, it does wind up ok in a few days).  I’ll never forget the planning meeting before Holy Week.  I had an internship that left so much to be desired (an interim minister who didn’t want a student, who was forced to work with 2 students, a congregation that didn’t grasp the word ‘new’ and the highlight was an older woman of the congregation getting into a shouting match with the organist DURING a service).  I kept thinking smile, nod, survive, advance and every other coupling that worked.  Maude Thursday was to be the celebration then the betrayal. Perfect. My absolute favorite time of the church year. When the lights are dimmed and not another word is spoken until Sunday morning, the ‘death’ of the faith.  The leaving the darkened church and the knowledge that the next time the congregation gathered it would be in celebration.  I loved it.  I loved the bad things into something good (hey, I AM a Cubs fan!).

During the planning session, the minister said to me  didn’t have to attend. What? This is the most sacred time, the most important time, the essence of the faith. He didn’t want me there.  I was told 3 looked awkward so I should just skip the service and “do whatever.”  I was stunned. I managed to say I didn’t need to help with communion – he said I really didn’t need to be there.  I went, I took my seat next to the ministerial intern.  And lost every love I had of the church.  I had made a few calls during the week to people in the congregation: the moderator, the chair of my teaching committee, the director of my field education program: all said to go but there was nothing they could were willing to do about my lack of inclusion.

Christianity, and liberal christianity of the UCC type, is about inclusion. It’s about holding the door open and not saying a person is not needed.  And so I sat.  And tried to find a glimmer of something, anything that would remind me why I ever thought this was a good idea.  I was empty. It had been a long year and the actions of a handful were enough to make me walk away.  Easter Sunday, when people gather in churches world-wide, to hear sermons of hope, resurrection, renewal: this guy preached on the evils of alcohol. I still have the sermon.  I still can’t connect the dots; although since some of my friends have a party called ‘Drink Up: It’s Easter!’ I did have a laugh in my head about the stupidity of that sermon. . . .

I finished out the year, knowing I wasn’t welcomed, that nobody would speak up for me, defend me and when I did, I stood alone.  Some people have said I walked out. Maybe.  Maybe the door was held open and I just didn’t have the energy to prove my worth.  I’ve been to church a few times in the past 5 years (never on Easter).  It is oppressive.  I wonder if people are really welcoming; or if it’s merely words.  I wonder every time I make the student loan payment if somebody whose job it was to act as my advocate, advocated if I could at least sit in a church without feeling unwelcome.

And the crazy thing? It’s not my faith that I question. It’s the institution: the one created by humans.

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2 Responses to “Yup, and the door hit me on the way out. . . .”

  1. Leigh Says:

    Amen.
    It is very interesting how your experience has been shared by so many for so many different reasons.

    • zebrastravels Says:

      It is one of the great problems that many churches face . . . part of the reasons are that very few churches are actually WELCOMING: yes, they may “welcome” new people but it’s like transfering mid-way through the school year. The year I was at this church the only visitors were my parents, family of congregants and one true visitor who wasn’t caucasian. . . .and it was pointed out to me by several people. Needless to say, that visitor did not come back.

      I’ve found that while many ministers truly do want new members, many congregations do not. My parents have been members of the same church and active participants for +20 years. . . some people still say they are ‘new’. My guess is that most of the issues of dwindling church activities/particpation (not people showing up) is because of a lack of inclusion. If you don’t have kids, not wanted. If you don’t have perfect kids, not wanted. It’s sad: the social instution of the church has done so much good in terms of awareness but seems to be lagging now because of an almost lack of willingness to let a new person (or idea) in.

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