theological sandbox

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

grab a snack for this one

Today I resigned my membership from a Southern Baptist church; while I am 100% confident that I have made the right decision, I am still a little bit nerved by the finality of officially removing myself from a group of people that I was so involved with for an academic year. I made a great friend and some acquaintances in the group (some of whom I still see on campus or in neighborhood stores), but those positives are far overshadowed by the beliefs I continually had to defend or could not express because of the group opinions and climate. I'm not saying "they're wrong and I'm right", I'm saying they are the wrong group for me for a number of reasons, one of which is my evolving/developing beliefs and values.

I don't mean to in any way bash the group or the church they came from, in fact I wish them all well -- I just know that their group is not the place for me to be.
And I can't blame everything on them -- I'm not "social" and so I don't socialize much unless it is obligatory. Generally, I don't socialize voluntarily. I would rather knit in my corner with my cat (reason #5 that I'll be the neighborhood crazy cat lady). However, I feel like I need to say this stuff for my sake, to talk about it to myself in a logical manner. And, this is my sandbox.

When I first associated myself with the group, they were all over me -- everybody wanted to get to know me, be nice to me, hear all about deaf education, et cetera. After a couple months of this intensive niceness and (what I now see as recruiting), I really thought that this group was the place for me to be, so I joined the church to cement my place in the group. Tip of the day: never join a church after a couple months -- ever. It's like getting married after a couple months of casual dating -- almost always a bad decision. Almost immediately, there was a change in their interaction with me. People withdrew a bit because I was already in the flock -- they didn't have to work to get me in and now my new role was to help recruit new people with them. People poorly concealed their dissatisfaction with my new job -- working for a United Methodist campus ministry. I wasn't alienated overnight, but over the course of several months, I felt like I was.

Eventually, this near-alienation (and eventually, complete alienation) led me to avoid attending services, activities, and Bible studies more and more. I slept in rather than going to morning church, never went to night or Wednesday services, rarely took part in activities, and found reasons to not go to Bible study. Finally the academic year ended and although I didn't want to return to my hometown, I was relieved to have respite. This dissatisfaction for that church extended to church in my hometown, and I found all the excuses in the world why I couldn't attend.

When I returned in the fall, I continually found excuses why I wouldn't be attending any group functions -- "my job takes me to all sorts of UMC churches for Sunday mornings"... "my alarm clock didn't go off" (sometimes true)... "I go to my campus ministry's Bible study on a different night -- I don't have time for two of them" (although I now go to two Bible studies)... "my roomies and I are eating dinner at that time". Some were legit, most were exaggerated. Eventually I realized that there was a reason I didn't want to attend their events -- I no longer belonged, I didn't share the same beliefs, and that community was no longer a good choice for me.

I decided it was time for me to officially leave that church, and opted out of finding a new church. I thought about it deeply and realized that through my leadership position in campus ministry, my spiritual needs were being fulfilled and I was growing more than I had ever done in previous religious environments. Besides, if I ever joined a church, my capacity to serve in that church would be diminished because of my first and foremost commitment to my campus ministry. I went on and on like this for several months, and frankly I enjoyed it. My weekends were more flexible, I could sleep in on Sundays (something that never happened growing up), and I felt that this was an appropriate decision for me, since I was active in a spiritual community under the guidance of a credentialed minister.

What eventually brought me back to attending church was communion. The sacrament tends to not be given in my campus ministry just because there isn't a great call or opportunities for it. I think we have done it once, and it was using an interesting choice of bread & wine: hot dog buns and Welch's grape juice. Beats Baptist communion by a longshot if you ask me. The Catholic influence in me leads me to want communion on a frequent basis -- I can totally understand why some people attend Mass on a daily basis. I knew that most UMC churches did communion on the first Sunday of the month, so I decided to visit churches on at least the first Sunday to get communion. The first church I attended seemed like it could be a keeper, and I was drawn to it again and again. I have no plans on joining due to my limited time remaining in the area, today's tip of the day, and commitment to a different ministry. However, I am contemplating being a "regular visitor" until I feel I need to make a change of some sort.

3 Comments:

  • Wow, I totally identify with your sense of aleination at a baptist church. I've been there too and am now attending a Methodist Church as well. Thanks for sharing. I would like to discuss a section of your post on my site. Please let me know if that will be OK.
    Thanks again.
    howieluvzus@rock.com

    By Blogger Howie Luvzus, at 11:50 AM  

  • Sure thing! Glad to know my sandbox is of use. : )

    By Blogger Elle, at 7:28 PM  

  • I understand your pain. I have been in Baptist churches all my life, and they can be pretty disappointing at times. It's more than okay to take a break from church membership - besides, the visitor's parking spaces are always closer to the door.

    If you ever need to talk, shoot me a note, and we'll figure out how to communicate.

    By Blogger the sojourning pilgrim, at 7:45 PM  

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