I almost didn’t go.
I had rushed around for an hour getting myself and the kids all dressed up, and making sure we all ate breakfast and brushed our teeth. My makeup and hair were done. I’d switched most of the junk in my everyday diaper bag/purse to a nicer purse. The kids had even brought me my boots.
But I hesitated.
Last summer, C was baptized in the Catholic church, and I wrote about my struggle with wanting to “go back” — i.e. attend on a regular basis.
And, well …
We really did.
I made a special Church bag with quiet activities for D. We worked on being quiet. We put on our nice clothes and made sure we were there with a few minutes to spare, so we could attempt to hide out near the back. We spent the entire hour (sometimes longer) whispering and shushing a curious two-year-old D and jigging a maybe-going-to-cry baby C.
It was stressful trying to keep the kids quiet. It was embarrassing when all of the crotchety old people would turn around and glare at us. I couldn’t follow any of the sermon because I was constantly dealing with one of the kids. I was sweating bullets the whole time.
And, without fail, every week I would leave nearly in tears (while Darling Husband swore we wouldn’t go through that again).
So after a while, we didn’t.
My neighbour, N, had told me all about her church. It was spacious and bright, with a huge new wing just for childrens’ programming. I even attended a playgroup there, and got to see it for myself. She was right. It was perfect.
But the more I talked to N, the more I realized that maybe I had to be open-minded. You see, N is Catholic, too. She and her family attend the same Catholic church as us — the spot where C was baptized — but they also attend this Baptist church.
It suits their family better right now, she explained. She has three young children (plus two older ones), and agrees with me that our Catholic church is not exactly accommodating. She doesn’t like the glares, the shushing, the stress.
So they go here, to the Baptist church, mostly.
And go to the Catholic church every 3-4 weeks, to maintain a presence, so their children can receive their sacraments there (like First Communion, First Confession, Confirmation).
It sounded like the best of both worlds.
I was intrigued.
I paused as I was loading the kids into the van. It was quarter to eleven. We could go to either service, really. I was nervous about showing up somewhere brand-new, not even knowing if N would be there. Was I really just going to waltz into an unknown church — a religion I knew nothing about! — all alone, holding hands with my children?
But then I considered the reality of going to our usual (Catholic) church. I didn’t have time to round up the items from the now-torn-apart church bag. I didn’t have time to gather a pile of quiet snacks. And oh, Lord, the way C fusses and shrieks sometimes when D dares to take a single crayon from her! If I thought church was difficult when she was a squishy little four-month-old, how would she be now — a rowdy, spirited 18-month-old?
“Fellowship” is a word they always say on 19 Kids and Counting (yes, I love that show). I always thought it sounded like such a nice thing. Fellowship! I didn’t know what it was, exactly, but it sounded so caring and welcoming. I wanted that.
After going to one service at this Baptist church, I completely understand what “fellowship” is.
You guys, these people were really, really awesome. I ran into N shortly after arriving, and she was wonderful about introducing me around. She led me and the kids down the hall to the childrens’ wing, where D and C were quickly signed into the kiddie program.
A volunteer handed me a beeper — like the kind they give you in restaurants when your table isn’t ready yet — and told me that unless it started flashing, the kids were fine. I accepted it, baffled, and waved as the kids happily went off into the playrooms.
I don’t remember the names of everyone N introduced me to, but everyone was really welcoming. They all told me they were happy we came to see the church, and they hoped I would enjoy the worship. Even the Senior Pastor came up to talk to me (twice!) and seemed really down-to-earth and fun.
I smiled a lot and thanked them, and kept saying I was really enjoying myself.
And I was!
If I could describe the whole morning in a single word, it would be “different.”
I’ve attended five different Catholic churches in my 30 years, and they were nothing like this. There wasn’t this cheerful milling of people before and after the services, as they stood around drinking coffee and laughing together.
There was a huge screen above the altar (is it still called an alter?) that was counting down the time until the service would begin. There was a band setting up! There wasn’t an holy water to bless yourself with when you walked in. The bulletin talked about how each sermon was podcasted (!) and how you could TEXT questions during the service (!).
The service itself was such so much more … casual? … than I’ve ever seen. The singing wasn’t from an elderly choir that sounded half-asleep, accompanied by a droning organ. It was like something you’d hear on the radio! Popish and fun, with an electric guitar and drums! There was no communion or shaking hands or peace-of-Christ-ing each other. There were no readings. There were no jangling bells.
The pastor commented that usually his sermons were light and full of jokes and anecdotes, but this week’s would be more solemn since it was a serious top (divorce). They were in the middle of a series of topics, and it was called “Breaking Bad” — they even used the logo from the show!
Even though he wasn’t joke-y, it was still a lot more “real” than most of the Catholic homilies I’ve heard. He talked about lust! He talked about sex! He talked about how marriages are messy and life is difficult and hey, it’s cool, because GOD GETS IT.
And the best part was that I actually got to hear it, because the kids were off in the nursery area. Nobody was glaring at me, or shushing me, that’s for sure!
After another round of hearty “glad-you-came-by”s and “great-to-meet-you”s, I scooped up my kiddos from the childrens’ area (and returned my beeper). They were both in great spirits, having spent the hour playing, listening to a story, and having a snack. Nobody was in tears. Nobody was stressed to the max from an hour of hissing threats to PUH-LEASE be quiet.
We went home together, and I read through the bulletin as we all ate lunch. It listed upcoming activities and special groups for women, like a “Mom’s Morning Out” on Tuesdays and a Ladies Bible Study group later in the week. It said they were looking for people to learn the sound system. I could do that, I immediately thought. And I really could design a much nicer bulletin.
I’d wanted so badly to feel a part of our church. I’d listened to what the priest had said about donating your time, talent, or treasure, and I’d wanted to do something, but I never felt that sense of community.
Really, in all my years of attending different Catholic churches, I’d never felt a true loyalty or connection to them — it had just been what I did, because I’m Catholic. It always felt right, yes, and I felt good about attending mass … but it didn’t feel particularly personal, like it feels when I pray every night.
It had felt like I had been attending a weekly play as a half-hearted audience member who got a free ticket and felt obliged to use it, rather than being part of the drama club who pulled together to put on the production.
But this felt like something that was open to me.
Something I could be a part of, if I wanted to be.
At this point, I can’t say exactly what we will do, because I don’t know.
It’s not as clear-cut as “switching” from Catholic to Baptist, because I don’t think I could ever do that — and Darling Husband definitely doesn’t want to do that.
I do want our children to be Confirmed (which happens around age 15, and means they would be allowed to be married within the Catholic church), because if they decide to marry a Catholic when they grow up, they’ll be all set. If they decide not to get married or switch religions or whatever else, that’s fine — but they will have had the option available to them. After that, it’s up to them.
I like the idea of doing what N does — attending the Catholic church semi-regularly, but attending the Baptist church weekly — in order to maintain our identity as Catholics but get the benefits of a close-knit, family-oriented, interactive church community.
But I also don’t feel I know enough yet, about the Baptist church. I keep hearing jokes (?) about how they don’t condone drinking or dancing (Footloose, anyone?) and they mentioned not condoning pornography in the sermon I attended. I’m not into 2/3 of the above, but I do like dancing (badly)! And I’m not sure what else they might believe/not believe that I may agree with/not agree with? How similar is it to Catholicism I have some research to do.
All I can tell you is that I’m feeling inspired. That one sermon piqued my interest enough to take me to their website, where I listened to the complete podcast from the previous week’s sermon. Listening to church! On the internet! I’ve been listening to the local Christian radio station for a few weeks now, and I like it. I’m interested in these womens’ groups. I’m thinking about how much I’d like D and C to get involved with the great programs they have for teens.
I’m a little fearful that I’m being swayed by the “glamour” of the podcasts and the texting questions and the daycare beepers — and, mostly, the fact that I can peacefully listen to a sermon without shushing my darling children.
I’m worried that I’m cheating on Catholicism by even experimenting with another religion. I’m even kind of nervous that other strong Catholic women that I respect will think I’m doing something terrible. (Catholic guilt — it’s a thing!)
I’m not sure when or how I’ll come to a decision, but I’m going to be doing a lot of reflection, and seeing what feels right for us as a family.
At this point, I think the fact that I’m thinking about this, listening to sermons online, and praying about it, can only be a good (God?) thing.
I love this post. I have had the reverse experience- growing up as a Baptist and occasionally visiting a Catholic Church with my former neighbours. I'm always intrigued by the beauty of the Catholic cathedrals and the sacraments (especially when visiting places like Italy where the parishioners are so passionate). Catholics are so reverant an inspired. They have added so much to the world's culture. When baptists get inspired they make marshmallow squares, but those are good too.
This is such an honest post. I can totally identify!