At one quiet point during the daily service on Tuesday, I realized that I was enjoying church. That's not surprising during a daily service. I've enjoyed daily services and daily Masses since dear husband and I used to go to daily Mass at the convent at St. Leo's in Winston-Salem - back when I was in college.
The surprising realization was that I currently enjoy everything I do at church - daily services, choir rehearsal, and singing at Sunday services. My only problem with church is that my voice hasn't allowed me to be there as often as I wanted this spring.
Let me back up. When we first started going to church, we went to an Evangelical Presbyterian church. It was the sort of place where you were expected to be there as often as possible, and we were. Sunday school and services on Sunday morning, Prayer and Praise on Sunday evening, guest visitation another evening, Wednesday evening programs, women's group, small group, etc. Along with Sunday morning, we were there Sunday evening through Thursday evening.
Did I enjoy these things?
No. I enjoyed the Sunday services, learned a bit at the adult Sunday School, but, if I'd been doing what I wanted, rather than what was expected, I would have stopped there. It was always a rush to get my work done for college because evenings were all taken up. The orchestra at Wake Forest University met on Wednesday evening. I never even tried out for it.
I'm not one to sit around regretting the past, but, if there's one thing that I've done that I could change, it would be to go back and never have joined that church at all. I look at all the things that daughter is involved with in college, and I really regret not having taken advantage of opportunities when I was in college. Wake Forest was the last of the three universities I went to as an undergraduate, and I never even made any friends there.* I only went to classes.
We went to the large, crowded, and noisy (exhausting for me) Wednesday evening dinners because that was part of being a Christian. We volunteered for all sorts of things because that was part of being a Christian. We taught Sunday School, even though I hate having to discipline other people's kids, because that was part of being a Christian. By the end of the school year, we were barely on time for Sunday School because I dreaded it so much that I didn't get out of bed until the last minute.
Do you know that girls, on the whole, potty train a bit earlier? I spent a good bit of the second half of the year in the bathroom with potty-training, two year old girls. Some of them liked to read books on the potty. Except for the whole sitting-on-the-disgusting-bathroom-floor aspect, that part actually wasn't so bad.
Except for the Presbyterian pastor saying that we must be under the influence of the devil because we were switching to the Catholic Church, it was a relief to join the Catholic Church. Yes, some priests emphasize the whole guilt-by-birth-control part, but most priests never even mention it.** Catholic churches seem to feel lucky to get any volunteers at all so there wasn't any pressure to be there every evening during the week.
We did get involved in various things at church, but, overall, we had more time. At this point, I was working and dear husband was in college. That's when we really got into hiking, camping, backpacking, folk music, going to concerts, actually making friends and having them over to dinner, etc. - all the things we didn't have time for before.
Once we had kids, our involvement varied. We did children's liturgy for a few years (alternating with others so it wasn't every Sunday). I still hated trying to keep other people's kids in line, but at least it only took place during the readings, the sermon, and the prayers of the people then we could send the kids back to their parents.
The biggest drawback, for me was the music. Catholic music was changing in that time, and, after the first few years, in most of the Catholic Masses we went to, the music varied from mediocre to dreadful - except for a year when one church had a fantastic choir director. Really, I would have preferred to have Masses without music at all.
When we joined our current Episcopalian church (with fantastic music, though that's not why we joined), we tried to get over-involved again. We were there too many nights, there were too many attempts at socializing, and I was back to just enjoying Sunday services. We spent almost no time with friends and very little time with relatives.
[One aspect of churches that I've always enjoyed which I haven't mentioned yet is any sort of small (discussion) group involvement. This was one of the only things I enjoyed in the Presbyterian church, it happened occasionally in the Catholic churches, and it happened in the program to join the Episcopalian Church. I love discussing faith, but I'm always amazed at how little that happens at churches unless we're involved in something formal like a small group.]
Something strange happened at our current church, though. All the things I volunteered for that I didn't really want to volunteer for but I did anyway because it seemed to be expected? - I was turned down. They had enough volunteers and didn't need any more. This made me feel horribly guilty for a while because I wasn't "contributing." The guilt was particularly bad during stewardship season when the preaching really emphasized getting involved. I finally started skipping church during those months - until one year when older son mentioned that the sermons weren't like that anymore.
Eventually, I volunteered (again***) for the choir, and it worked. Right now, I'm one of only two second sopranos. I do feel like I'm contributing.
My behavior towards myself, church-wise, has been very different than my behavior towards my kids. I have dragged myself to all sorts of things at church because I'm "supposed to" as a Christian. On the other hand, we've always focused on what the kids want from a church. Do they want to try Sunday School? Fine. Do they want to go back to homeschooling instead? Fine. What do they want to be involved in? We've always wanted church involvement to be a positive thing for them instead of a chore.
Older son absolutely loves choir. He almost never misses it. Last fall, at college, daughter decided to go back to the Catholic Church, and she joined it at the Easter Vigil last Saturday. I was surprised, because she was the one who was the happiest at having women as priests and deacons in the Episcopalian church. I was less surprised when I found out that the Catholic church she attends in Asheville is about as liberal as a parish can be without getting in trouble (and more liberal than our Episcopalian church). She's also been really encouraged by the Catholic student group there.
Younger son? When dear husband stopped going to the Episcopalian church, I didn't really feel that I could require the younger kids to keep going. Sunday worship has always been the one thing that we did emphasize, church-wise, although we always tried to find a church that the kids could enjoy. However, it seemed somehow hypocritical to make them go when he didn't.
Although we still discuss faith, both as a part of everyday life and as part of our homeschooling, younger son hasn't had the regular church attendance that the older two did at his age. This fall, we started going to daily noon services every few weeks (they're not held every week and sometimes with the rest of our schedule). It turns out that he loves them! He hates crowds and likes the peaceful, shorter service (though he does miss the music). During the consecration, we all gather around the altar, which is a very special experience.
I realized, at the daily service on Tuesday, that I was happy in what I'm doing at church.
On Wednesdays and Sundays, I get to sing in the choir with a wonderful group of people. In between, there are other non-choir people that I'm happy to see. Occasionally, during the week, I get to sit with younger son at a peaceful, meditative, daily service, which he actually enjoys!
It's been a few years since I've felt like I have to drag myself to church.
* I went to MIT and UNC School of the Arts as an atheist so I had the time to make friends.
** Trying to live up to Natural Family Planning brought us immeasureably closer to divorce than anything else has ever done.
*** I tried to be in the choir when we first joined but, because Wednesdays were so busy from morning until evening, I usually had a migraine by the time choir started.