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.
The photograph used in this post is attributed to Nancy Big Crow. It has a Creative Commons attribution license.