It’s been a chaotic and challenging few weeks since our relocation to our new home. We lived in NY for 20+ years. That’s a lot of friendships, familiarity, and family to leave behind. Now, it’s just the two of us for the first time in nearly 34 years of marriage. We no longer have five children and all their activities to lead us into new friendships. We’re on our own…in more ways than one.
We’ve managed to get the living room functional and the kitchen, too. Our office spaces, now separate in this new house, are up and running and our master bedroom is pretty organized. We can sleep, dress, work, cook, eat, and even relax (when we’re not unpacking boxes!!). We have a roof over our head, food on our table, and each other. We are doing better than many and for that we are grateful.
We’ve unpacked our necessities and are now moving toward those things that make this house feel like home. Pictures of our kids and grandkids. Scrapbooks. Familiar, favorite artwork. We’re building shelves and getting organized. But we’re missing some things. Bill can’t find his hiking boots or the box marked “nails”, which we’ll need to hang up aforementioned artwork. I can’t find my curtains or my rosary. And there’s something else missing, though I doubt I’ll find it in a box.
It’s a church. We left behind a vibrant, active, joyful parish community where we were quite active for many years. We have not found anything remotely like it here.
I can walk to the nearest Catholic church, about five blocks down the street. I’ve been there four or five times, trying different mass times and even attending daily mass. I can’t see myself becoming a member of that church for the life of me. For it’s a church…a building…not a parish family. Now, I know I’m new to the game and I need to give it a chance, but it’s just not…happy. The masses are very beautiful, moving, and reverent. The linens are folded just so. The incense is lit for nearly every mass. There is beautiful organ music and a trained opera singer as the cantor. It feels like a well practiced performance. But, I don’t feel like a participant, I feel like a spectator.
I also feel like time has been turned back 25 years or so. There are no women on the altar, not altar serving or lectoring. There is no wine offered. They still kneel (which we haven’t done in our old parish in 20+ years). No one holds hands during the Our Father, which I understand is not really a part of mass, but it certainly makes people feel connected. I miss that! At the Sign of Peace, people turn towards one another and nod hello, peace, etc., but no one makes a move to shake hands at all, except me, of course, because that’s what I’m used to! Since no one has ever said hello to me at all, I really feel like it doesn’t matter whether I’m there or not. I feel invisible.
At the end of every mass, they recite a rote prayer to St. Catherine of Siena that is unknown by me. It is not written anywhere for strangers to follow along, so that just reinforces the feeling that I don’t belong. They also make sure to pray that everyone understands that a “marriage is only between a man and a woman.” Whether or not you think same-sex marriage is right/wrong is not the point I’m trying to make here. What that statement does is say, “You’re not welcome here if you’re like that.” I guess we won’t ever be singing the hymn, “All are Welcome” in that church. This might be a good place to mention that this is not the only church I’ve “tried.” It’s probably the third, at least.
If this is what church is like everywhere else than where I came from, it’s no wonder people are leaving. I understand now why my children have not really been motivated to find churches in their new hometowns. There is piety and reverence but there is no joy.
So, back to unpacking. We found the nails. Still missing the boots, the curtains, and my rosary. But what I need most, what I want most, what I miss most is something I can’t unpack.
Sue Karpovich and her husband Bill recently left Clifton Park. Sue was very actively involved in the life and ministry of the Roman Catholic Community of St. Edward the Confessor. She was my first friend here, gathering me in with warmth and love. I miss her terribly, and I am grateful for her sharing this elements of her journey. Other posts, we hope, will follow!