The Best Church in the Whole Wide World

I need a new church. As I've mentioned, I moved house recently. My old church wasn't perfect and I certainly didn't agree with them on many doctrinal issues, but they were a sedate enough bunch and served my spiritual needs adequately. In inner Sydney moving 5km might as well be moving to a different state though, and it would now be a pain in the arse to get to Sunday services in time on public transport, so I've been looking for a new church.

My quest for a new church could be summed up pretty well in this comic from Berkely Mews:

But I'm going to prattle on about it for another few hundred words regardless. Evidently, churches have decided a big reason people don't go to church anymore is not feeling welcome when they get there. And what churches have decided to do, pretty much all of them, is to assign parishoners to stand at the door of the church in the manner of greeters at Walmart and welcome newcomers, except it would be like if the Walmart greeters then followed you around the store. Be a first time attendee at most reasonably sized protestant churches these days and there will be someone at the door wanting to know who you are, where you're from, if you're from the area, do you go to church normally and which one, what do you do...there's no chance of slipping past them and quietly taking a seat waiting for the service to begin either, as they'll insist on sitting next to you and, very likely, introducing you to people on the way. Now, I'm sure some people really appreciate this welcome to a new setting. But if you're shy, awkward or going through a hard time - in other words, people who may well be seeking spiritual comfort - it is a nightmare. 

Feeling a bit low, I went to the evening service - which, given it was advertised as a "fun, informal community!", was probably my first mistake - at a local, mainline protestant church. There was the usual "HI HOW ARE YOU WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE?!?!" when I walked in, but nothing too bad. The service was pretty okay; I liked the music, the guy playing the guitar could really sing. But then there was after. Oh god. I wasn't allowed to leave. Every bloody person there had to be introduced to me. Beverages were shoved in my hand. I only just avoided being forced into table tennis. But worst of all was the incredibly nosy person who wouldn't leave me alone, asking question after personal question, seeing my reticence as a sign to go in harder. In desperation I even mentioned that the social thing is a little off putting for introverts in a new church and she's like "well, we won't leave you all by yourself!"

At length I managed to leave, feeling a little upset, even a touch violated. When I left, the pastor noticed, and started off a chorus of about 30 people yelling "BYE NICOLA! - this was awful. I felt obliged to acknowledge it though, so I turned around and stood there grinning awkwardly.

All this made me consider going back to the Catholic Church. Oh, I still disagree with them about... Well most stuff actually. But the Catholic Church is a lot like McDonald's. You walk in, no one cares who you are, you do your little ritual (whether it's the Eucharist or ordering a big Mac), you walk out. No awkward chit chat, and no matter where you go in the world you know what you're going to get. No one wants to know where you've come from, your faith background, if you're new to the area or if you want to be introduced to everyone. In fact, chatting at all in a Catholic church is forbidden, particularly in the Irish Catholic tradition I was raised in. In a Catholic Church in Ireland, the closest you might talk to someone is if, say you saw your brother across the pews for the first time in a year after he'd been missing in a war zone, you might just nod your head slightly to acknowledge each other. Even that might earn you a reproachful "Ah-HEM" if there's a particularly diligent nun nearby.

In the end, I couldn't quite go Catholic but I think I've found the right church for me. They follow all the beautiful and complicated liturgical traditions I love, without the bit about the Pope; but the best bit is no one talks to you. There's a brief thank you to the person who hands you the hymnal, but that's it. The only discordant note was when I went to use the washroom; as I emerged, I saw one of the priests pulling up skirts of his voluminous robes, to save time before using the facilities himself. But that's okay. Frankly, I'd rather he defecated in my hand than go through the bestest church in the whole wide world again.

FWIW Going to church occasionally doesn't change anything my feminist and democratic socialist beliefs (and if I'm challenged about issues such as a woman's right to choose, I just like to say "I'd like to concentrate on getting the Christianity in Acts 2 right first before we worry about things that aren't even in the Bible"). Yes, the Abrahamic religions are inherently patriarchal and some would say sexist. But there's massively sexist dirtbags in atheism as well.  I'm feeling like the problem might be letting dickhead men run things unchallenged, not religion or the lack of it. 


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