It's Easter morning at my parents' house. I'm a little anxious as they get ready for the day. Later on, my children will run around and collect Easter eggs in the back yard. Right now I'm kind-of waiting for them to go to church.
There are very few things I miss about attending church. I didn't like most of the people; I didn't like putting on a show; I didn't like the gossip-in-the-name-of-spiritual-health. However, I miss getting to play music to an audience every week; I miss having a place to meet people and make friends; I miss spontaneous getogethers started from some church service or activity. Overall, I'm glad to have left it behind me.
But here, this morning, I'm getting an important reminder of why I've been glad to leave church behind me: time. Church took an enormous amount of time out of my day, out of my weekends, out of my Sundays. It sure feels good to get to use my Sundays as I wish.
Church is an odd beast because it is treated like the pinnicle of spiritual devotion, as the most obvious sign that you're on the right track, or at least trying, to be a good Christian. Even if your life is a mess, as long as people see your face in their community every Sunday, they'll be able to believe that you're on their team.
However, church is boring and artificial. It's easy to attend church when you're not really into it. It's easy to hold on to a community even when you have nothing in common with them. And as an artificial entity full of people putting on a show, it needs to maintain itself.
That's where "para-church" organizations—summer camps, youth groups, college Christian clubs—come in. They're often created under the guise that they will bring people into the faith or keep people involved when they're away from home. I took part in oodles of them growing up: Young Life, IVCF, a summer camp. They were certainly a force that helped keep me connected with "the fold." They did their job. Sort-of.
The problem with these para-church organizations is that they are far more organic and effective than church itself is. The summer camp where I worked from 1996-2001 regularly reminded us to make sure we told campers that church wasn't as fun as camp, but it was very important; when I was part of IVCF at UVic 2001-2003, we were regularly told that we were there to "support the local churches" and that people shouldn't treat IVCF as a church replacement. However, the Christianity at camp made sense at camp, but didn't really make sense in the real world; the Christianity at IVCF was a group based around peers of activity (students) and age bracket, so it was far more relevant than any church service could be.
Perhaps it might have been different if I was ever a large-church attendee. But apart from attending The Place, which took place on Sunday nights, I was always a small-church person. I felt comfortable in small churches because I could be both cagey and private. Perhaps if I attended a larger church, I would have been surrounded by more beautiful women or more fun people. But I didn't, so church could never hold a candle to the joys of para-church activities with my bona fide peers.
Not to mention, these organizations always had activities that were far more convenient than any sort of church service. They took place on Friday nights... like at times when you might go on a date, and they'd end early enough to go do other things. But a Sunday morning service? No way. You have to get up on Sunday morning, wait for the service to start, and by the time you get home, half your day is done.
At least that's how it felt to me.
When I moved out on my own, it was easy to skip church because I lost most of my contact with those organizations. And since the local churches were filled with people who were "not my people," their pulls' artificiality hit harder than it had before.
As I see people getting ready for church, it reminds me of how much I didn't fit in to that context, how much time I tried to spend being a good Christian when really I was something else. I was an unawares agnostic who simply hadn't the guts to admit to his atheism.
And I'm sure glad to get to choose what to do with my Sunday mornings now. And I can skip the tedious special services, like the Easter service, which was invariably the same as any other Easter service. Sure feels good.
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