For a few months, I had been going to different affirming churches each week to write about them to help others find the church most suited to them. Then in April, my depressive episode got quite bad. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past but worse than it’s been in recent years. My therapist and I came to the conclusion that the church visits were doing me more harm than good.
None of the churches was capital T toxic or anywhere close to abusive in any category. They also accept and affirm my queerness so I thought I would be fine and even feel liberated in them. Instead, I would come back home feeling glad to be back in my safe and warm flat and feeling unsettled and exhausted from being in church. I was starting to think perhaps I have outgrown Christianity altogether and I’ve been kidding myself by thinking that I still feel connected to this faith… maybe it’s time to accept that religion is just not for me.
I was starting to think perhaps I have outgrown Christianity altogether ...
Then I went to my church’s annual Seder meal. If you don’t know, the Seder meal is the meal Jewish people have to celebrate Passover. It is a highly symbolic dinner with different foods reflecting different parts of the Passover story and then afterwards you have a normal meal together. As someone who is ethnically partially Jewish (my Portuguese family were forced to convert to Catholicism or face death), it felt particularly meaningful for me to go. So, despite the reservations I was having around my faith particularly when it came to gathering with other Christians, I went.
It was spectacular. The Seder meal itself made me feel connected to my ancestors in a way I hadn’t before and the meal afterwards made for conversations I would never have expected from a church. Almost everyone there was from a different church background. There were those who grew up Pentecost, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic, Anglican, Brethren, Quaker, and Baptist.
The Seder meal itself made me feel connected to my ancestors in a way I hadn’t before and the meal afterwards made for conversations I would never have expected from a church.
Almost everyone spoke about their backgrounds and did so with the nuance of ambivalence while everyone listened openly. They shared the good things about their upbringing while acknowledging the not-so-good things such as not being able to be themselves there. When clashes occurred around differences in beliefs and experiences no one argued or lashed out or declared there is one truth; they opened themselves up to the other and truly listened. I came away from it not thinking in binary truths or gatekeeping God or religion but marveling in the diversity of experiences and traditions and holding them all equally.
When clashes occurred around differences in beliefs and experiences no one argued or lashed out or declared there is one truth; they opened themselves up to the other and truly listened.
Although it was a wonderful experience I still felt very uneasy about church. After reflecting on what it was about the other churches I had visited that made me feel unsettled it came down to two things:
Most of the churches I went to on my little affirming pilgrimage and all of the churches I went to during my conservative evangelical era talked badly about other churches. It wouldn’t come from the pulpit but from casual conversations over a cup of tea. With the affirming churches it would be about other denominations, such as Anglo-Catholics telling me they think full-body immersion baptisms are ridiculous or progressive evangelicals commenting on how their church is better because it’s more relaxed. When it came to my conservative evangelical days it was even worse as they were all in the same denomination but would still find things to complain about. One of the churches was too concert-like, another not preaching directly from the bible enough, and some were called “spiritually dead”.
Most of the churches I went to on my little affirming pilgrimage and all of the churches I went to during my conservative evangelical era talked badly about other churches.
Me being a chronic people-pleaser and overcompensating for my autistic nature would never challenge these comments and often, I am ashamed to say, join in. Christians are some of the most judgemental people I have ever met. I am not sure which came first, but I think the lack of inclusion and celebration of diversity has meant that diversity of practice and tradition has also been forbidden, judged, and viewed through the lens of hierarchy.
Genevieve's thoughts continue in "Can We Gather Part 2" where they address shame in the church.
Part 2 of Can We Gather? In this article, Genevieve addresses shame.
Genevieve take's a pilgrimage of churches and tackles the question, can we gather without harming one another?