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Re-Visiting Church: the Day Before

By Tania ~

In about 24 hours, I will step foot into the church that I “took a break from” over two years ago. I am going there because it is my aunt and my uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, and this anniversary will be acknowledged during the service with the presentation of a plaque to the celebrating couple. I am filled with mixed emotions — curiosity, worry, detachment, indifference. On the day that I’d last attended the church, I told myself I would not go back there for a while, except maybe for weddings and funerals. I think this occasion counts as something similar to a wedding, and so I will go.

On November 16, 2014, I was visiting my parents and siblings, and I joined them for church. By that point, I’d already been transitioning away from Christianity for over three years, but I wasn’t as far removed from it as I am now. I’d still sometimes go to church on Sundays…and then go to Skeptics in the Pub on Mondays. I spent a lot of time in an online support group for deconverting Christians, but I would still listen to worship music quite often. I was on the fence, I guess you could say.

On that Sunday morning, I gave church a chance. I did not sing along with the hymns, because I did not agree with many of the words. I stood for prayer, listened to the choir songs, and listened to the sermon. As it turned out, that day the pastor talked about “those people who don’t believe anymore…who have hardened their hearts towards God…those who are agnostics and atheists.” I tried to let it slide. I tried to remind myself that the pastor just didn’t know what he was talking about, that he was not informed, that he was closed-minded or self-righteous. I tried to listen to the rest of the sermon, but I was distracted and upset. The people sitting around me seemed unbothered. I felt so alone in the middle of all these “good believers.” Even though I wasn’t pretending to be in agreement with the service — I was just attending with the rest of my family, like a “good” daughter or sister would — I felt kind of like a hypocrite.

That evening, I drove home, reflecting on the day’s events, and especially the church service. Driving on the stretch of highway between Armstrong and Vernon, I screamed and cried and eventually pulled over to the side because I couldn’t drive safely anymore. I knew this wasn’t healthy, and I knew enough by then to realize that I am not the problem. This wasn’t my shortcoming, my sin, my lack of faith or patience or whatever. I promised myself I’d take a break from this church for one year — it seemed too drastic to say I’d never go back again, but a year’s break was probably a really good idea.

A lot happened in that one-year break. I decided to get a bit more involved with CFI (I had joined in July 2012 and went to a few events, but then became occupied with other things). I remember having a Sunday morning off from work in spring 2015, and I went to a church service at one of the mega-churches in Kelowna. I ended up walking out halfway through. I went out for coffee, read a few chapters in a book, and went for a drive up to Big White Ski Resort. It was a lovely day. As time went on, I made a couple new friends. I continued on with my singing lessons, which were a good challenge and kept my mind occupied. I learned to let go a bit.

November 2015 came and went, and I decided to extend my break. As well, I felt ready by that time to help other people who are struggling with the role of Christianity (or other belief systems) in their lives, and I did some training to become a volunteer with the Recovering from Religion hotline. I didn’t finish the training, but I learned a lot through the website and the volunteer manual. In June 2016, two other women from CFI and I started the Leaving Religion/Living Without Religion group here in Kelowna.

And now I sit here and think about tomorrow. I think about other things in life that I’ve moved on from — an old boyfriend or two, a university program, a friendship that fell apart painfully but necessarily, an unhealthy obsession with my weight — and I think, “Maybe I needed those things in my life at the time, but I’m done with them now.” I’ve seen other people and places. I’ve listened to other voices. I’ve cried enough about it. And I can look at those things now and see the bigger picture around them…and realize it’s time to let go.

I think about that girl who sat there in church over two years ago, feeling alone, confused, bombarded with all these things that no longer made sense to her…and I think of this year, this month, this day, and how I am no longer that girl. I think of how I’ll wear dangly earrings and keep my hair down instead of pinning it up like I did for most of my church life. I think of how I’ll listen to what’s going on during the service, but I’ll not place too much meaning on it unless it makes sense to me. I think of how afterwards, I’ll have lunch with my family and then eventually head back home. And this time, maybe, probably, it’ll just be a pleasant drive home.