Church Nerd Stories… Walking Out of Church, Inching Back – Another Unlikely Tale

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my church nerd beginnings. I also noted that I was coming up on my 19th anniversary of returning to church, a date that is shared with the 18th anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s a big day for me and it has come and gone. Like so many things, it was so unlikely.

In 1971 I made my Confirmation and not long thereafter, stopped going to church. Now, it is not uncommon to see Confirmation as “graduation” from religious education; frankly that is a pity. Sometimes it is called “a sacrament in search of a theology,” but that was not what was operative in my life at that time.

Along the way I made some serious religious and spiritual searches… Judaism and Buddhism were my two most extensive journeys. Oh how I wanted to be Jewish! However, there was that pesky issue of Jesus. I was fine with so much about Judaism, I was fine without the Roman Catholic Church it seemed, but not without Jesus. Crap. Don’t you hate when that happens? Dang! Jesus!

Buddhism might have worked out better if I had not ventured into Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. You might know this as the chanting of “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.” At the end of the day, it was a bit more cultic than I could handle. There was a tenet about “wishes” being granted and I still think of “born again Buddhism,” that did not set well with me. It was simply not my path.

The Roman Catholic Church was never far from my heart. I remembered my prayers. I often said them quietly, hoping no one, myself included, would notice. I did hope that God would notice but I figured that God was done with me. I still said a lot of Hail Marys because I had a feeling that Mary would never give up on me.

Sandwiched in between the Jewish phase and the Buddhist phase, I was in college and I did have some RC longings. The first time that this happened was in September 1979. It seems hard to believe that the me of this era would do this, but I guess it was the homesickness and adjusting to new surroundings.

I headed over the campus Newman Center to check things out. There was a priest there and a lot of people. It was all very post-Vatican-II-70’s-kumbyah and it scared the living crap out of me. Folk mass always gave me the creeps! To say I fled would be an understatement… Imagine the cartoonish trail of dust at my heels as I recall running out of there.

Many prayers but not one iota of church attendance later in 1978, I decide to go to church. What brought me there? Who knows? Well, I know now, but then it was as out of character for me as it would be for me to attend a Nichiren Shoshu session now.

However, awash in my own unworthiness, which breaks my heart today, I got dressed up and sat in the back of a large church in Oswego. I loved the music, the prayers, the ritual but I did not feel like I was worthy. So I sat in the back, never went to communion and left feeling worse than when I had arrived. I felt ashamed. I told no one about this and I was hoping that by sitting in the back, God would not notice me and smite me down.

If God did notice me, I figured that Mary probably calmed God down and I was left in my lonely pew at the rear of the church.

Mary, the Mother of God, who was my secret devotion and my only hope for some connection to the divine. Holding on to her was like one thin yet sinewy lifeline that kept me from going under. I told no one.

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15 thoughts on “Church Nerd Stories… Walking Out of Church, Inching Back – Another Unlikely Tale

  1. Had to laugh about your Newman Center description. I used to go to the Newman Center at Truman State (then NE Missouri State) with my RC friends and it was the very same experience.Even now, at my Episcopal church, we do a few Communion hymns that would fall in that category of "crappy Newman Center guitar mass music"–I am the Bread of Life, I Will Raise You Up, God Will Wipe the Tears from our Eyes. TBTG we do them to a piano. If someone yanked out a guitar, I'd run screaming as if the church were on fire!

  2. I remember when my church did that folk music kumbaya stuff. Long haired guys and girls playing the guitar and tamborines. god they sucked. That stopped really soon. Congrats on your anniversary.

  3. Remember "One Bread. One Body." We used to sing "One bed, Two bodies. . ." Loved it. Still makes me giggle. It's the only way to get through some of that St. Louie Jesuit crap. That, and to sing "Under the Sheets" as the ending to every song."I will Raise You Up" (under the sheets)."It only takes a spark to get a fire going" (under the sheets)."One Bread. One Body" (under the sheets).Okay, I'll stop now before I really get myself in trouble.

  4. Growing up LCMS, the "under the sheets" game worked really well for…My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (under the sheets)When in the Hour of Utmost Need (under the sheets)Savior of the Nations, Come (under the sheets)

  5. My late husband used to lament (after being at my house amidst a gaggle of lesbos) "There's nothing more boring than a dyke with a guitar."To which I'd reply, "Then you haven't attended a Catholic folk mass."

  6. Fran, interesting that I had often thought: if it wasn't for Jesus, I'd want to be Jewish. I had lots of Jewish friends growing up, really yearned for some of what I perceived there.

  7. I rember a proverb, not by chapter and verse, but it's there.Train up the child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he shall not depart from the paths he has been taught.God accepts the wanderlust of the young.

  8. My wife still sings occassionally in her RC church's folk choir. Complete mit Guitar. But I don't recognize any of the songs y'all mention; the ones they sing don't sound like 70s fuzzies and they are sure as heck a lot better than the 70s strummers I remember from my youth.

  9. Jesus was the decisive factor for me, too, Fran. Didn't go the Jewish route, but fiddled with all that New Age stuff for a while–karma, meditation, planes of existence, etc. It was just close enough to the faith I was raised in to make me feel cheated not having Jesus to guide me through it–a lot of broth, but no meat. Came back home where I belonged, where He had been waiting for me all the time.PS: Nobody was spared that icky guitar stuff. Even we loud and jumpy Pentecostals got into it for a while. I could probably go the rest of my life without hearing those schmaltzy tunes.

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