Last week, Tara B. of Washington, USA, wrote a great post about her evolution from Catholicism to agnosticism and what religion has meant as she raises her kids. (If you didn’t read it, you can read it here.) Her post stirred a lot of feelings in me and generated this response.
When I was a child, my family regularly attended church but it wasn’t for the religiosity of it, it was because it was the place to be seen in the affluent, Philadelphia suburb, where we lived. Our Episcopal church was a social network for the well-heeled. Rather than gaining a deep understanding of God and an appreciation for the value of a genuine church community, I viewed church as a place of formalities, where what you gained from coffee hour trumped anything absorbed during the sermon or Sunday School.
I grew to disdain attending church. It felt vapid. Artificial. Insincere.
As a teenager, I began to explore other ways of experiencing spirituality. On the small peninsula in Maine, where I spent summers growing up, there was a walking trail worn into the rocky coast line. Sitting out on those jagged ledges, I often experienced God deeper and closer than I ever did in church and so my church attendance slowed to a trickle.
By the time I got to college—a Presbyterian, Liberal Arts school in the heart of the Bible Belt—I was adamantly anti-church; an agnostic but not an atheist. Despite the fact that a lot of really cool kids (and many of the best looking guys) were openly “Christian,” it felt rebellious and daring to firmly plant myself as a non-conformist. It fit right in with my minority as a “Yankee.”
Fast forward to adulthood, which for me, didn’t happen until I got engaged at 30.
Neither my husband nor I wanted to take vows we didn’t believe in. Nor were we keen on getting married by a minister if we didn’t also attend a church. Together, we sought and found a beautiful, colonial church in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, where we were living at the time. We quickly immersed ourselves in the church community and culture, serving on various committees and in various capacities and in this way church became as much a part of us as we became a part of the church.
When we became parents, we knew the values and gifts found in church were something we wanted to share with our kids.
Shortly after the birth of our first child, we returned to New England, where talking openly about religion is somewhat taboo. Of our inner-circle of friends, not many attended church and we had few references and recommendations to go on. We were left to “church shop” on our own.
First, we tried all of the Episcopal churches within a five-mile radius. To no avail. Catholic churches were closed to non-Catholics and, like Tara, we loved the message of the Unitarian-Universalist church but felt the service and doctrine was too informal for our backgrounds. Ultimately, we landed in a UCC church, the former Congregationalists of New England (if you want a brief tutorial of mainline protestant denominations, you can read more about any of them here).
In the past fifteen years, I have evolved from being a lone-agnostic into a church-going family.
Even though our current church also is located in an affluent suburb, it is NOT a society church. It lacks pretense, formality and pomp. What it offers is a grounding place to raise our kids in religion. It has a robust church school, active youth programs, multiple outreach opportunities, more committees than the United Nations and a strong sense of community. Parishioners can find myriad ways to be involved or opt to remain anonymous.
On a weekly basis we encounter believers, questioners and questioning believers. We celebrate births, baptisms, weddings and memorials. Here in America—where most babies are born in hospitals and most of our seniors die in old-age homes—we partition ourselves into groups, categorizing our society by age, ability and social strata. Church is one place where all groups are welcome and present.
For us, church has become part of our family identity. Our children get what it means to be involved members of a family bigger than our own. They also are learning to sing joyfully, to love others, to serve and to receive with grace. We view church as a true extension of ourselves and the world we want our children to understand and be part of.
We’re thankful that, in raising our children, we don’t have to do it alone. Raising children requires a village and in our case, also a healthy spiritual home.
What has happened in your life since having kids? Are you embracing established beliefs and raising religion or interpreting spirituality in your own ways? Share it with us, World Moms want to know.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Kyla P’an. Kyla also writes about personal musings in her blog, Growing Muses. Kyla is a writer, an editor, mother-of-two and a church goer.
The photograph used in this post is attributed to Nancy Big Crow. It has a Creative Commons attribution license.
Glad you have found a church that fits you and your family. That’s wonderful that you have a place that feels right and offers you something that you can truly believe in.
Thanks Maggie. I saw your comments on Tara’s post so I can see you share her search for what feels right for you and your family. Have you tried out any churches? What’s felt right and what’s felt off?
Since having kids and moving 20 minutes away from a wonderful, vibrant church where I met some pretty cool people (hi, Kyla1), my church attendance has slowly trickled to an almost-end. It’s difficult to “church shop” with little ones in tow who balk at being left in an unfamiliar nursery, and wrangling them in the pews is such hard work that I’d rather just enjoy a lazy morning at home. At some point, I’d love to find another church where we can make our home because I do believe (most of the time), and I’d like my kids to at least have enough familiarity with religious institutions so that they feel they are accessible when they begin their mature faith journey. (FYI–Catholic churches are open to all, anytime. You just don’t go up for Communion, so I can understand why they feel ‘closed.’)
I can’t imagine church shopping without a supportive spouse in tow but always marvel at the many, usually, mothers sitting alone in pews while their kids attend church school. I guess it must bring comfort to them, knowing that they want to instill a religious presence in their kids, attending a church with an active church school and many family activities. Perhaps finding a new, “right fit” would give you some precious, reflective and ever needed alone-time…plus, it would help abate some of the Catholic guilt you no doubt carry around while “searching.”
Thanks for clarifying the Catholic policy for me. Not being able to take communion would feel very ostracizing but I’m now glad to know we wouldn’t be turned away at the door. And thanks for sharing where you are on your religious path with WMB!
Hi Kyla – I enjoyed learning about your spiritual journey. I love to hear people’s stories around faith and how they practice it. Sounds like your family has found the right spiritual home. Good stuff ;-).
well obviously I enjoyed hearing about your faith journey too, it prompted my reply post, so thanks for sharing it so openly. Religion doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all form and even though we love our church, I don’t always buy into all of the doctrine. Finding and following your faith is a life journey. You’re well on the path.
I was raised as a Catholic. My parents wouldn’t talk much about religion but we (me and my siblings) were forced to go to the Church every Sunday and on catholic’s holidays. The same was with praying on mornings, evenings and before each meal.
As an adult I call myself an agnostic. I know that I would never do to my kids what I was forced to do as a child with no explanation for those actions.
When I got married to my husband (atheist who as a teenager was very religious and had planned to be a pastor) we tried Universalist Unitarian Church. I really didn’t want to because for me the word “church” brings really unpleasant memories and I do not like those kind of gatherings… maybe because I am not very social or maybe because of my childhood memories. Anyway, I went there with my husband for a few times and after that I’ve decided that I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve tried to enjoy it but I couldn’t.
My husbands stopped going there as well.
As a parent I know that I’ll try to teach my kids about every religion (“religious studies”) that push them into one direction (one particular religion or atheism), which I am a little afraid my husband might want (try) to do.
I feel like, of all religious backgrounds, I hear this type of tale most from Catholics. That somehow practicing Catholicism is inherited and not always by choice (though, ironically, my mother recently converted from Episcopal to Catholic….go figure).
I hope you find a spiritual place that you’re comfortable with and that feels more like “your” home. There are a lot of ex-Catholics in my denomination (UCC) and mixed faith marriages, maybe it’s one worth trying out if you’re looking for a church home in addition to your spiritual path. Good luck!
This is another well written and intimate post on religion. Thank you for sharing something so personal with World Moms Blog.
I just answered your question over at Tara’s post that you reference above in detail. We currently don’t practice any religion, but plan (have already started!) to expose and teach our children to many world religions.
I think respecting the religious beliefs of others is very important, and I hope to pass down that respect to my children. (I think you and many of us, regardless of our beliefs, feel this way, too.)
I also hope by discussing many religions on the blog, it will make us all closer as people, and we won’t miss out on knowing each other and working together just because we believe different things. 🙂
I enjoyed reading about your religious journey!
Thanks Jen, writing about religion is just as loaded as writing about hot topics like politics, education or circumcision. There always seems so much to say and such a fine line to walk. I suppose the best any of us can do is to share the paths we’ve chosen and open the field to comments and discussion. And really, isn’t that what WMB is all about?!
I hope more of us share things (religious practices, traditions, holidays, spiritual exploration or dilemmas) with the group because, like you, I really value hearing about the paths others have chosen.
Thanks for your comments and support!
Love this post.
I love how passionately you write about your faith.