Sunday, July 26, 2015

Organized Religion, Do You Matter?

To preface this blog post with some background, I was “born and raised” in a Southern Baptist church.  From the time I was an infant, I was in church nearly every time the doors were opened.  My mother was in church with me as were my maternal grandparents.   My father, as the story is told, quit church when I was born because he was angry with God because I (as his first child) was a girl and not a boy (that’s another later blog post which will be titled “Daddy Issues” or something to that effect.)

Anyway, being raised in a Southern Baptist church in the 70’s and 80’s, I know proper Southern Baptist church etiquette- I shall not make noise in church (no clapping, raising of hands, or other displays of emotion), I shall not question my beliefs as they’ve been stated to me. I shall not dance (because it is “dry sex” - whatever that means.)  I shall sing from the Baptist Hymnal and I shall know most of the words to those songs in that book without looking.  I shall not drink alcohol. That’s pretty much what I gained from the Southern Baptist experience, oh yeah, except “Once you’re saved, you’re always saved,” the concept of which still behooves me (again, another blog post.)  Also, when I was a teenager, I gained my most intriguing concept of the Southern Baptist church, which was, “Jules, you can try to fit in, but you don’t really matter.”  It seemed no matter how hard I tried; I was excluded from the group.  Was it because my family did not have as much money as the other families? Was I offensive in some way?  I will never know, but I will always remember the feeling of showing up sometimes to their activities, but never really being included.  I still don’t know why I was excluded, and I am 46 years old so that exclusion really doesn’t matter anymore.  Except that is does because I still feel excluded in church.

I was an active member in a church (which I shall not name) for many years.  I can’t remember how many, but I know it was more than 10. Two of my children were Baptized in that church and the other was “dedicated” as an infant. I gave money to that church regularly; I attended “Sunday School” (or “Life Group”) classes off and on, I was in the worship service nearly every Sunday, I had regular, monthly nursery duty, I volunteered in VBS almost every year.

 A few years ago, I quit going to that church.  There were a bunch of different reasons why I quit going (many are personal and most are boring.)  But I did quit going to that church.  My daughter (Macy, 16) however remains at that church.  She attends activities and trips with the youth group, even though I never attend.  Recently, however, she was speaking in the worship service about a youth trip she had been on.  My baby girl is speaking in church?  I need to go.   So off to my old church I went!  It was awkward at first.  It was angering!  Here I was after not attending for over 3 years.  Some people who still knew me called me by name, but not one of these people in the 3+ years I’ve been amiss has ever contacted me or reached out to me in any way to see what happened, why I no longer help with their nursery, give money, or sit in their worship service! Hmmmm….
Am I invisible?  Clearly I’m not because some people do remember me.  I came to the conclusion that in this particular church (as the Baptist church I spoke of earlier) I just don’t matter.

 As I always did in that church that I loved for 10+ years,  I was energized and immersed with their musical worship. They were pulling me in as they had done a thousand times before.  Sing these songs, Jules, from this PowerPoint and projector.  Listen to our 5-piece worship band.  Clap your hands, move around.  You will like it.  And I did!  The substitute pastor was even great too as he spoke from Matthew 1.  All the while knowing, if I never attend this church again in my whole life, I will not miss it and they will not miss me.

As I was siting there I was contemplating all this and thinking about who does matter in church?  I’m not sure.  From what I saw in my recent visit, the picture perfect families matter – the ones joining the church or being baptized whose children are spaced appropriately apart and they look really good in pictures.  Families with mothers who don’t work outside the home, they matter.   The single man (by himself) or the single woman with kids she has trouble supporting, they matter.  Those who can sing or play an instrument in the worship band, they matter.   That teenage girl whose parents don’t attend but she still attends faithfully (Macy Alexander) – she matters.  I however, don’t matter.  And it’s ok.  Because I do matter to God and that’s far better than mattering at church.  “I am your Creator.  You were in my care even before you were born.”  Isaiah 44:2a (CEV).  “The Lord has made everything for his own purpose.” Proverbs 16:4a (GW)

Will I attend church again?  Yes, I will.  I have a church in mind and have visited there once.  I owe it to my 10-year-old daughter to get her back in church and give her that church background, which is irreplaceable.  Will I matter in the new church?  I seriously doubt it.   On my recent one time visit, I did not seem to matter.   But I will go most every week, I will give money and I will volunteer where I can; not because I matter, but because my child does matter to God and to me.   I believe it’s important for her to have those experiences that can only come from organized religion.

In closing, it is my hope that your experiences in organized religion have been better than mine.   I hope your congregational experiences have left you with a great feeling about church and not feeling empty and bitter because, my friend, whether you matter in church or not, you do matter to God.

Thanks for reading! 

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