Today, I wanted to share an experience that made me think hard about what truly matters in the process of growing in our faith.
For the first time, I attended Confirmation Class and something that our Reverend said really caught me off guard. We were told that part of the confirmation process, and part of the expectations of a confirmed member, is to regularly attend Worship. This seemed like a fairly normal thing to expect, but what if you are one of those people that feel deeply uncomfortable attending church services?
After class, I went to talk to our Reverend about my fear in attending. I related how I have been too scared to come to Worship for a while because, even surrounded by people that I know and love, I feel foreign in the congregation. Trying to explain, I vulnerably admitted that I was not raised in the Church, so I do not feel comfortable with Worship in a church setting.
Unfortunately, we did not find a solution that I was okay with. The Reverend made plenty of suggestions: I could sit with someone I know, I could ask God to give me the strength to get through, or I could wait for healing and try at a later date. We parted with Blessings and the hope that I could go through Confirmation at another time when it felt right.
This left me in despair and feeling quite hopeless, sad, and lonely, so I departed. However, as I got in the car to go home, I realized that I was angry. I had felt unaccepted and pushed away by the Church all my life and I was not ready to let this situation make me give up on my endeavor to grow closer to God. Needing time to think things through, I went on a drive.
With music blaring and wind blowing in my face, I thought about what was upsetting me and what needed to change so that I could get through this with my chin up. Eventually, these thoughts morphed into a plan, and I altered my route to include a pit-stop on the way home. I ended up at a discount books store.
At the book store, I purchased three books and they all had interconnecting themes; why do people not find attending church a necessary part of life, why do people drop out after attending church for a while, and what solutions are available to help people find a comfortable setting where they can grow in their faith and worship God? I believe these topics have been heavy on my heart for a while; I am pulled to find a method to help others, like me, find a way to follow God without feeling shamed.
Sadly, I feel that shame has been a part of many individuals’ search for God. If your story is anything like mine, you might be alone in your hunt for a church community because family pursues their faith in different ways. You may find comfort in the first church family you find or attend a number of different parishes on your journey to find what feels right. There are so many denominations and beliefs to choose from that it can be quite a daunting task to find what is in your heart.
I believe that God pulls us each to discover Him in different ways. Some people might worship in a fishing boat, some might find comfort in a church setting, and others may pray quietly at home. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but as a layperson I honestly believe that it’s okay to worship where you feel God most strongly. I do not hold with those who believe one must attend services in a designated church building in order to officially commit to God.
Perhaps this believe is wrong; however, I was once told that the Holy Spirit guides us and when something is right or wrong we will know it in our hearts. Well, when I was told that my discomfort in the church setting was “not God talking to me,” insinuating that if I was listening to a voice that told me that place was not right for me that I was listening to temptation, I felt in my heart that something was deeply wrong. In this moment, I felt that there must be another answer and a better solution.
That said, I have now decided to act on my feelings and try to help those that likewise crave another option. If I cannot get Confirmed until I can regularly attend Worship, then I will find a way to make Worship more comfortable. Whether I learn about Mission Churches, small groups, or another method, I will not give up until there is a clear solution. People should never feel like they are not a “good fit” to worship God.
Some people do not like church and this does not make them bad, nor does it mean that they are denying God in any way. Coming to a new place and meeting new people can be exceptionally scary. Churches are made up of people and those people are only human. Despite trying our hardest, times take place when we judge others for one reason or another and this can deeply isolate both newcomers and regular attendees.
Thankfully, new perspectives have somewhat healed these rifts. Certain denominations have opened their doors in welcome to female priests, people of different sexual orientation, and other once shunned parties. Today, more than ever, people are learning to accept others as they come and not as they expect them to be.
Well, why don’t we take this revolution to another level? Perhaps we should ask “unchurched” people why they do not attend. Statistics show that the majority of people that do not go to church are actually open to and curious about God, so why don’t we strive as a society to answer questions without causing people to run away scarred by a bad experience.
Support our neighbors with acceptance that reaches beyond familiar expectations to where they are currently on their unique paths to find God. Who cares if you listen to Christian music or “secular” music, if God is truly Almighty then He most certainly reaches out to us where we are at the time. We may start in one place and transform completely, but it’s okay that we grow close to our Creator in different ways and in His time, which is different for each of us.
If meeting at someone’s house or a local restaurant helps you feel more comfortable, because a familiar location helps you concentrate on Worship instead of the fear of being in your surroundings, then why not go for it?! Do not let people discourage your faith journey because it does not line up with commonly accepted doctrines. Believe in God’s plan for you, believe in your heart, and know without a doubt that you are loved by God no matter how He brings you closer to Him!
Jesus Himself was a disrupter and the Bible talks about how He changed things for all of us. He altered the way that we see this world and opened our hearts to new concepts that we had previously misunderstood as people. So, why should we feel shamed by our God-Created, unique qualities that allow us to grow closer to Him? From my viewpoint, the answer remains that it’s okay to break the mold.
Embrace the path that God has put you on and use your differences to help neighbors. Learn how to sympathize, when you cannot empathize, and show people what love feels like. A wise friend once said that “God comes back in all of us”, so I suggest we take note of all the ways that God shows His different traits, and especially unique perspective, through each person in our lives. Regardless of our specific calling, the Holy Spirit in our hearts can make a difference to others.
Be brave and passionate in showing God how much you love and adore Him! Listen to where God tells you to go and don’t let others dissuade you when you feel in your heart that God is speaking to you. Listen to the advice of those who have your best interest in mind, but never feel like the view of other people overrides the small voice that God gave you. After all, God is always with us and at the end of the day, it is God’s Will that matters most.
Side Note: If you read this article in totality, I want you to know that I mean no disrespect to the Church as a whole, nor do I hold any negative emotions toward my own Parish. I simply mean to convey the hope that in this world filled with rampant diversity, similar to the extensiveness of registered denominations, God seems to have assigned many different faces to His Church. The beauty of this lies in the fact that no matter where we are today, or where we came from, we are invited to come to Him for both love and acceptance.
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