I pull into the parking lot at just past five, and sit idling in my car for a few minutes. I’d looked up the service times online and knew that if I wanted to be serious about attending this church tonight, I’d be able to better manage my anxiety by slipping in the back once everyone else was already occupied.
I finally get out of my car and walk around to the front entrance. I try a few wrong doors – every building in this complex looks fancy enough to be the main sanctuary. Is this place well-funded or is that just every Episcopalian church? I choose to try this particular church out because it reminded me of the tiny Presbyterian congregation I sang in while in college, the one with the rickety wooden pews and the organ in the loft. That was the first church I’d felt safe in since leaving my parent’s faith, and I was hoping that this place might feel the same, in my new city.
I open the correct door and poke my head into the sanctuary. Candles burning, voices humming, the sunset plying through the stained-glass windows. This seems perfect, the best setting for spiritual contemplation. No one will yell at me. No one will scream that I’m a sinner until their face contorts and spit stains their cheeks. This seems peaceful, quiet. Safe.
But I can’t go in.
I try, and I just…can’t. I spin around quickly, all but running toward my car. I leave the parking lot like I’m being chased, and it’s not until I’m over the bridge that I start to calm down, opening the windows to breathe the spring air.
I haven’t left my faith. I’ve left behind an angrier version of it, and I can’t seem to make sense of where I’ve ended up. I came from fundamentalism, an us-against-the-world branch of American evangelicals. It was a system that promoted shame, intolerance, and in some cases, outright hatred. I was born into it, and it chewed me up and spit me out.
I keep trying to walk away from any belief whatsoever, because part of me thinks it might be easier. Never have to wonder about God again? Awesome. Sweet. Sign me up. But I can’t get away from it, and I go back and forth between thinking that it’s because I’m a hopeless case of child indoctrination, or that it’s because something in the idea of faith calls out to me no matter where I go.
I wrote in the beginning of this year about giving up on going to church. So why do I find myself still hovering outside its doors? I’ve said many times that I’m no longer able to stomach anything about the theology and politics of the evangelical church. I am, if anything, “post-evangelical.” So why do I find myself volunteering to sing for a friend’s Easter Sunday service?
I can’t help but wonder if there are many others stuck in this middle place, in between faith and leaving it, in between church and not. I think that I can’t be the only child to have grown up and looked back in horror at the faith they were raised to believe in, only to discover that walking away from it isn’t easy at all. Maybe it’s typical of this age bracket, maybe it’s a generational thing, but I like to hope that I am not the only one hovering outside of church doors on a Sunday morning. I hope there are others like me, still wondering, still questioning, still searching. I hope I’m not alone.