My disenfranchisement with church started early. While my parents encouraged individuality, open-mindedness, and balanced enjoyment of secular media, my church exposure was frequent and stereotypically evangelical. Riding on the charismatic surge of the 1990s, my church upbringing stirs up memories of Flannelgraph board Bible stories, “action” songs, purity pledges, and crackling VHS tapes of The Donut Man live show (which I always found disturbing). Easter Sunday flag ministry, Harry Potter Awareness Nights, and the Christy movies were the wholesome pillars of my childhood.
The sterilized Christian culture attempted to be fun and safe but, even as a young child, left a weird taste in my mouth. I remember very specifically the moment that I started losing interest in church. My Sunday School teacher, a particularly zealous (but well-meaning) congregant, told my class of 6-8 year old girls that because Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, men biologically had one less rib than women. I precociously insisted otherwise and had my medical professional of a mother back me up. As I got a little bit older, I detected an “us and them” mentality that required an arms-length participation in the world surrounding. This unsettled me deeply as a kid, but because this had been my only exposure to church, I was certain that the problem was within me. I didn’t accept or like what was being offered to me in terms of a church community, but it didn’t occur to me to look elsewhere till much later.
To combat my self-perceived bad attitude, I flung myself into the thick of church culture in my teen years with the hope that God would change me. I eagerly attended church camp every year, took a leadership position in my youth group, and committed myself to being above the teen culture. While claiming to be cool and judgment free, I was actually judging folks outside of my safety net. And judging hard. I had become a product of my church environment, despite my parents’ desire to keep the door open to discovering faith for myself. Stuffing down my early childhood intuitions, I dove headlong into the waters of evangelicalism. This saturation of church culture is what largely contributed to my decision to go to Bible college.
It wasn’t until I got to school that I began to critically assess my surroundings. And when that began, the more uncomfortable I became. During my two years of study, I attended church maybe 10 times. Once removed from my home church experience, I failed to identify any authenticity or sense of community in the churches I was recommended to attend. This is not meant to be a generalization of all evangelical churches, but merely a reflection of my own experience. I respect that there are thriving evangelical churches that step outside of the same quiet judgment and unchanging routine, but I have been hard pressed to find one.
I asked my sister how she felt about our church upbringing and she hit the nail on the head. Paraphrasing her words; she observed that evangelical sermons and church culture feels pretty condemning and awkward to someone who hasn’t been exposed their whole life. Having married a dude who’s more into the quiet tradition of Anglicanism, the feeling she described has guided her to express her faith in a different way. And it’s for this reason that I don’t like going to church.
I don’t like going to a church where only some are welcome to participate. Where there is criteria for discipleship. Where the Gospel is thundered from a pulpit and not found in moments of authenticity and tenderness. Where the only liturgy to be found is in the tired pattern of “welcome message, fast song, handshaking time, announcements, slow song, sermon, altar call”. I don’t want to pretend to enjoy myself and then feel guilty for not being spiritual enough. What I want is community.
Community can be found where God moves in imperfect people and knits them together in mutual love for Christ and others. When we affirm the full humanity and inherent goodness of the people around us. I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a community. When I first visited Ottawa, my partner brought me to his church. An Anglican church. I must admit that I was apprehensive to the idea after years of believing that mainline denominations were heretical and dying. But the moment I walked into St. Alban’s* at the corner of Daly and King Edward, I knew something was different. Good different. My first impression was a culture of love and acceptance. Everyone participated in some way or another, there was incredible diversity, and the Eucharist was celebrated in the most beautiful way. For the first time in months, I’d felt the closeness of God’s presence as I awkwardly fumbled through the liturgy and happily worshipped along to familiar “hymns”. Afterwards, I told Davis that St. Al’s was the first church I’d ever felt truly at home in. And I am so pleased to be making it my home.
I acknowledge that the day the Church reaches perfection is the day that Jesus returns. I also acknowledge that bitterness and criticism is easy. I harbour no bitterness towards my upbringing; there just needs to be a different way.
*Shoutout to any St. Al’s people who are reading this! Y’all are beautiful people.