On Giving Up Church For Lent

by Kay Stolz

 

Pisces, whose element is water, is my astrological sign. Notwithstanding the fact that I have lived in the desert for the bigger part of my life.

Now an ocean is outside my door with 7 miles of beach. I could get mystical about it: the waves go out, and my troubles go out with them. The waves come back and restore my soul. However, I leave the soul stuff for a Sunday sermon.

The last thing I need is some preacher telling me how to be saved. Glory Halleluiah! And all of that.

I gave up church for Lent some years ago. Don’t be offended, I mean no disrespect. Church and I came to a parting of the ways. Not church really, but the people, oh my God, what sanctimonious fools. I know, I know, church is full of sinners, but these were full of those who proclaimed not to be, not in so many words, of course.

So, I decided that church was not for me after umpteen many years among the faithful. My loss, I know. Does God care if you get all cozy with your fellow parishioners? As my grandmother, if she were still with us, would say, “I go to church to pray to God, not visit with people.”

Still, a community of sinners, isn’t that what church is?

Oh well, that is where I am; among the “unchurched,” as the media call us. We are the biggest group in the state of Oregon. It is all about no rules, freethinkers, finding spiritual happiness in nature. And for heaven’s sake, the beauty of that is all around us, isn’t it?

Manzanita by the Beach– that’s the slogan of this little village. I am here, with a house, small view of said beach, and forest surrounding me. How could I be so incredibly lucky?

Like birds building a nest, my husband, Dave, and I furnish this dream beach house. The yard is uncontrolled Salal and ivy, taller than Dave, who’s six feet. Get that ivy out, add some shrubs and flowers and a curving path. It is ours. Settling in, I join the garden club, the library, the art center. We investigate the neighboring towns and countryside, learning about our new community.

st-catherine-episcopalThere is a church on the highway, the denomination I grew up in, and the only one I know. Surprising, I think, that it is one of only three churches in town.

It piques my interest. No, we are not going down that path again. Would this be any different from the ones you left? The ones whose members cared more about social status, were more interested in talking with each other than welcoming visitors? No matter how you tried?

Still, there is a spot in me, an unfulfilled need, want, what? It grows.

Then I meet some members of the church who are great people. Ummm.

OK, OK, I say. What can happen if I go once? How bad can it be? They aren’t going to throw me out. Then maybe this voice inside me will shut up.

One Sunday in November, I get up the courage to try this church. Finding an outfit to wear, I worry, “Too dressy? Not dressy enough?”

As if God cares.

Nervous, I walk into an elegant but rather unadorned church. A large fountain of black rock stands at the entrance to the sanctuary. The sound of water flows softly over the rocks. Taking a bulletin, I enter, and find a pew. The hymns are unfamiliar; the service is changed to a modern version of what I learned growing up. Gone is the King James language. However, even unfamiliar, the bulletin is easy to follow.

I settle in, but still anxious, it has been a long time. The sanctuary is sparse, compared to the masonry church of my childhood with its stained glass, ornate altar, imposing organ and stone pillars. This church is round; lights hang from the soaring ceiling imitating the circular form. A piano in the back provides music. Unusual, the knee-high windows line the wall at floor level, looking out on pools of water. It is deliberate, only the slow ripple of the water breaks the solemnity and solitude. The single other glass is in skylights. The walls are bare, the altar unadorned. The effect creates a feeling of serenity, peace.

The service continues, and I can’t tell you the words said, or prayers recited. However, something grows in me. And then, the experience overwhelms me. A wall shatters, and I fear I may break down.

I remember Grandma’s disapproving, stern look and hear her say, “Emotional displays do not belong in our Church, it is not done.”

 

I straighten myself, get control. Service ends; feeling raw, unsure of what just happened, uneasy, I leave the pew. The Vicar stands at the back to greet the congregation as they leave the sanctuary. I stop at her smile and try to say something, but mumble in my uneasiness, still overcome with emotion. Can she tell? Am I embarrassing myself? No.

“Good morning,” she greets me with warmth, takes both my hands in hers. She looks in my eyes, and I see and hear, “Welcome.” She releases my hands to greet the next parishioner.

I turn to see friendly, caring faces, welcoming me.

The Spirit fills me. I am Home. Lent is over.

Pisces, whose element is water, is my astrological sign. Notwithstanding the fact that I have lived in the desert for the bigger part of my life.

Now an ocean is outside my door with 7 miles of beach. I could get mystical about it: the waves go out, and my troubles go out with them. The waves come back and restore my soul. However, I leave the soul stuff for a Sunday sermon.

The last thing I need is some preacher telling me how to be saved. Glory Halleluiah! And all of that.

I gave up church for Lent some years ago. Don’t be offended, I mean no disrespect. Church and I came to a parting of the ways. Not church really, but the people, oh my God, what sanctimonious fools. I know, I know, church is full of sinners, but these were full of those who proclaimed not to be, not in so many words, of course.

So, I decided that church was not for me after umpteen many years among the faithful. My loss, I know. Does God care if you get all cozy with your fellow parishioners? As my grandmother, if she were still with us, would say, “I go to church to pray to God, not visit with people.”

Still, a community of sinners, isn’t that what church is?

Oh well, that is where I am; among the “unchurched,” as the media call us. We are the biggest group in the state of Oregon. It is all about no rules, freethinkers, finding spiritual happiness in nature. And for heaven’s sake, the beauty of that is all around us, isn’t it?

Manzanita by the Beach– that’s the slogan of this little village. I am here, with a house, small view of said beach, and forest surrounding me. How could I be so incredibly lucky?

Like birds building a nest, my husband, Dave, and I furnish this dream beach house. The yard is uncontrolled Salal and ivy, taller than Dave, who’s six feet. Get that ivy out, add some shrubs and flowers and a curving path. It is ours. Settling in, I join the garden club, the library, the art center. We investigate the neighboring towns and countryside, learning about our new community.

There is a church on the highway, the denomination I grew up in, and the only one I know. Surprising, I think, that it is one of only three churches in town.

It piques my interest. No, we are not going down that path again. Would this be any different from the ones you left? The ones whose members cared more about social status, were more interested in talking with each other than welcoming visitors? No matter how you tried?

Still, there is a spot in me, an unfulfilled need, want, what? It grows.

Then I meet some members of the church who are great people. Ummm.

OK, OK, I say. What can happen if I go once? How bad can it be? They aren’t going to throw me out. Then maybe this voice inside me will shut up.

One Sunday in November, I get up the courage to try this church. Finding an outfit to wear, I worry, “Too dressy? Not dressy enough?”

As if God cares.

Nervous, I walk into an elegant but rather unadorned church. A large fountain of black rock stands at the entrance to the sanctuary. The sound of water flows softly over the rocks. Taking a bulletin, I enter, and find a pew. The hymns are unfamiliar; the service is changed to a modern version of what I learned growing up. Gone is the King James language. However, even unfamiliar, the bulletin is easy to follow.

I settle in, but still anxious, it has been a long time. The sanctuary is sparse, compared to the masonry church of my childhood with its stained glass, ornate altar, imposing organ and stone pillars. This church is round; lights hang from the soaring ceiling imitating the circular form. A piano in the back provides music. Unusual, the knee-high windows line the wall at floor level, looking out on pools of water. It is deliberate, only the slow ripple of the water breaks the solemnity and solitude. The single other glass is in skylights. The walls are bare, the altar unadorned. The effect creates a feeling of serenity, peace.

The service continues, and I can’t tell you the words said, or prayers recited. However, something grows in me. And then, the experience overwhelms me. A wall shatters, and I fear I may break down.

I remember Grandma’s disapproving, stern look and hear her say, “Emotional displays do not belong in our Church, it is not done.”

 

I straighten myself, get control. Service ends; feeling raw, unsure of what just happened, uneasy, I leave the pew. The Vicar stands at the back to greet the congregation as they leave the sanctuary. I stop at her smile and try to say something, but mumble in my uneasiness, still overcome with emotion. Can she tell? Am I embarrassing myself? No.

“Good morning,” she greets me with warmth, takes both my hands in hers. She looks in my eyes, and I see and hear, “Welcome.” She releases my hands to greet the next parishioner.

I turn to see friendly, caring faces, welcoming me.

The Spirit fills me. I am Home. Lent is over.