“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you,” a friend remarked recently as we chatted during an event for a non-profit where we’re both involved. “I know,” I said, “I’ve hardly been at church.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” she replied, eyeing me pointedly over her glasses with an expression that said she wanted to know why but would not press further if I did not voluntarily explain.
Amused by her attempted subtlety, I smiled. “I’ve only been twice since mid-August. I’m either on sabbatical or in exodus, I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when I discover which it is!”
It’s the end of October, and this is an unprecedented absence in my life. I have never missed going to church on Sunday more than a couple weeks in a row and always before due to travel or special events. In the past I felt eager to return. Mostly now I feel relieved.
Why have I withdrawn from church-going?
I have not gone off in a huff over a particular issue. It’s been a gradual process of disengagement beginning with the new Missal just about three years ago. Despite the very pastoral approach to this change that was taken at our parish, the new language has alienated me from the liturgy, particularly from the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist through the communion rite. After the gifts are presented, I experience an unraveling of the prayerfulness and reflection fostered by the Liturgy of the Word. What had been warm and human becomes stilted and rote. And it’s not just the words themselves, but their meaning signifies a renewed emphasis on atonement theology that I cannot accept.
Over this same time period, my tolerance for the hierarchy has evaporated – their heavy-handed treatment of American nuns; ongoing revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups; and finally this past spring, the expanded morals clause in the Cincinnati Archdiocese teacher’s contract. Increasingly I feel myself complicit in their actions by participation in the church. Many people are heartened by the gestures and words of Pope Francis, but his “softer tone” is just not enough for me. I’m glad he cares about global poverty and models a simpler lifestyle, but he doesn’t understand or value women any more than his predecessors.
I’m not sure where this path is heading. I wonder how I’ll be impacted over time by the loss of community, a consideration that previously kept me in the pew each week. Last spring the idea of liberation took hold, no doubt the result of ongoing interactions with Judaism, where exodus from slavery is a defining narrative. Realizing that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt, I’m okay living with the present ambiguity for a while.
Praying for you and your discernment, Peg. Ironically I found myself thinking about the new translation of the Missal in Mass last weekend, and I felt surprised by how at home I now feel with many of the changes I initially struggled with. I owe a huge debt to our pastors whom I credit with making the prayers come alive in meaningful ways, even with awkward translations, but thank you for widening my heart to remember that this has not been everyone’s experience. I hope you will feel supported and companioned, even on your “exodus.”
Thank you, Laura. Your acceptance and prayers mean a great deal to me.
Hello Peg. This is my first introduction to your writing. As a cradle Catholic that wandered away in 1993 and returned in 2002, I can totally relate to your need for clarity. I stumbled in and investigated the Presbyterian Church for three years, ending with the Presbyterian USA break-up. I then ended up at The Cincy Vineyard for six years. It was only after marrying a devout Catholic that I returned to regular attendance in the Cincinnati Archdicese. My main reason for returning was to worship in concert with my wife. We attended both the Vineyard and a Catholic parish for quite a while. What I learned when I returned was that worship was more about me than the ceremony and personal input of that week’s celebrant. The twenty solid minutes of music worship at the Vineyard was and still is what I miss the most. However, I am more engaged than ever before when we sing together during mass. My wife and I spent more than a year visiting as many churches in the Cincinnati Archdiocese as we could accommodate. What an experience it was to get a flavor for the uniqueness of each and every parish we visited. I continue to attend mass on a weekly basis without any expectations for what they can do for me. Most of the time I participate with my eyes closed and get lost in my experience. I think I could probably accomplish this in any number of denominations but I am happy to maintain my roots. I don’t say all this to force my actions on anyone else, more so to add to he discussion. Blessings to you in whatever you decide for the future, I get the feeling you operate from a foundation built on rock.
Hi Thom — Thanks for sharing your story. It illustrates to me (yet again) how the Spirit moves each of us in unexpected ways. What a journey to visit so many churches in the Archdiocese!
Peg, you have verbalized my thoughts and feelings about the church so well. I am also in the desert and looking for refreshing waters! I am glad to hear I have companions on the journey.
Thank you, Mary! Blessings on your journey.
I love this honest, authentic, human post. I especially love the last line.
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks, Mary Anne!
I can so relate! What is your experience of Debraeyers and/or the Resurrection community? K
Hi Kate — A regular commitment on Weds prevents me from attending the Resurrection Community though I’ve been once or twice, and I haven’t made it to any of Debra’s other events either. My whole theology is in transition so I’m really unsure where I’ll land.
Thank you so much for your reflections on your struggles with being a Catholic. I think your experience is really widespread these days, but I have not seen it so beautifully expressed in writing. I am wondering if you would feel at home at New Jerusalem. There are now only about eighteen of us, so I hesitate to invite people because they might feel they are walking into too intimate a group, but I know we offer something many people are looking for. Though we follow the Catholic liturgical structure, we don’t have a priest. Gerry and I and most of us experience what we do as Eucharist in the full sense of the word, but our comfort with this evolved over many long years — perhaps it feels radical to people just walking in on it. On the other hand, we really, really are praying and celebrating. Nothing is rote. We share our lives and our faith. It is really spiritually nourishing and such a source of strength to all of us. I would love to have others join us. We meet at 9:30 for shared prayer and begin our liturgy at 10:00. We meet in the “mansion” across the back parking lot from St. Bernard’s Church on Derby Ave. in Spring Grove Village. I will be out of town the next couple of Sundays, but would love to see you some time.
Thank you so much, Anne! I am touched by your invitation and would like to sit with it for a while.
I have not had regular attendance at in church in almost 1.5 years. Amazingly, I’m completely at peace with that. I miss the ‘ceremony’ and some of the community of going each Sunday, but I have found that I am having “church” every day just by living out my life as the hands and feet of Christ. I do still meet each Tuesday with the older women from the last church I attended so that is my fellowship.
For me, until I know that I am FULLY supported from the leadership of the local congregation all the way to the top of the denomination…whichever that might be…I just can’t let myself be vulnerable to a church again.
Good for you!
[…] “changing direction” came to mind, a literal description of my physical action and also the title of my blog post about deciding to withdraw from regular Sunday mass attendance. That seemed interesting. […]