"A Mhaithrin, A'Leigfea 'Un and Aonaigh Me?"
Moomin Light, or How I Came Up with This Name

Faith Journey

The Faith is something outside of me - a destination, a touchstone, a goal.  My faith, however, has been more of a journey.

I grew up in the Lutheran church, and still retain a fondness for it.  I can still sing the responses, such as "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from Thy Presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me, the joy of Thy Salvation and uphold me with Thy Free Spirit, Amen," even though I haven't heard that particular melody or those particular words since I was in elementary school. 

I decided I was an atheist in high school, however, and that went on for the first few years of college.  Then, about a year after we got married, I had an experience of God and was converted (or reconverted, as Pastor Tonneson, who confirmed me, would probably say). 

We joined an evangelical, charismatic, Presbyterian church, and were very involved there for two years.  On Sunday, we taught the 2 yo Sunday school (or as much teaching as you can do with a bunch of energetic 2 yo's), went to the regular service, and went to Prayer and Praise in the evening.  On Monday, we were involved with the visitation team (visiting those who'd recently filled out visitors' cards).  Wednesday nights had dinner and teaching, and Thursday we were involved in a small group.  We've never again had that much time to get involved in a church!  We learned a lot there about the Bible, fellowship and community.

But, over the summer, we went to Mass when we visited my in-laws.  This appealed to me in many ways, particularly my quieter nature.  I didn't seem to have enough words for a charismatic church (and I was too feminist).  Mass was more contemplative.  We lived a few blocks from St. Leo's Catholic church in Winston-Salem, and we would walk over there on weekends, pray, look at all the beautiful stained-glass windows, and discuss their stories.  I started RCIA there (the program for joining the Catholic church), and joined the Catholic Church a few weeks before I graduated from college. 

We stayed in the Catholic Church for almost the next 20 years - three children Baptized and two First Communed.  We were involved in various programs in various parishes, including a small-group based religious education program, which we loved.  But a few things happened about 4-5 years ago.  The child-abuse scandal, even though we didn't hear about it happening at any of the parishes we belonged to (though it did happen at a parish we visited a few times a year) and the reactions of many bishops made me feel less attached to the Catholic Church (and I admit this is an emotional rather than a theological reaction).  The programs we had been involved in at our parish dissolved.  I felt more of a need for community at that point, and couldn't find a way to do anything with that.

A friend invited us to her Episcopalian church, and, after discussing it for a few months, we decided to visit.  The worship was enthusiastic, the music was beautiful, and the people were friendly.  We started attending there, and eventually joined.  Now, this wasn't a reaction so much against the Catholic Church, as a motion towards a church where, it seemed, we could get involved and find fellowship. 

I gradually found, however, that I was more Catholic than I thought I was (being a convert).  I actually had a harder time joining the Episcopalian church than my cradle-Catholic husband did.  The night before we joined, I stayed up until 3 am trying to decide what to do, and didn't come to any conclusions.  Finally, the next afternoon, only a few hours before the service, I decided that I would join because we were joining as a family - my husband was joining and my children were involved there. 

Now, there are many things I appreciate about the Episcopalian church.  As I said, the music is beautiful (and most local Catholic churches have gotten rid of any classical music or hymns), and the worship is enthusiastic (worship is very important to me).  My older two children got involved in choirs, and they also began to worship more enthusiastically - which I was so glad to see.  It's surprised me how much they love traditional hymns when they've grown up with modern, Catholic, pop hymns.  The Episcopalian church, like the Catholic Church, also has a strong feeling for social justice.

The parish had a beautiful compline service which …to say I enjoyed it wouldn't do it justice.  The music and the prayer were very powerful, and they put me in a very prayerful and meditative space - so much so that I usually had no words at all for at least half an hour afterwards.  My family learned not to expect me to talk on the way home - or even to listen very well.

But, I eventually found that being in the Episcopalian church has been like going to a dance where I cannot hear the music that everyone else hears.  I've spent countless hours trying to figure out why (hence my new hobby of reading sociological, church analysis), but I haven't come up with any firm conclusions.  Part of it is, I think, my quiet nature.  I don't know why that hasn't been a problem in Catholic churches - Italians and Irish not exactly being known for their reticence.  I think part of it is that there is a tradition of quiet (devotions and monasticism) in the Catholic Church and so quiet is more accepted, even if everyone else is talking.   Protestant churches seem to require more talking overall.

Regardless of the reasons, I've found it harder to get involved (most ministries being closed) and harder to get to know people in the Episcopalian church (I usually get to know people best by volunteering with them) than in any Catholic parish we've ever belonged to.  This really began to get to me about a year and a half ago; I started feeling rather hopeless about church in general and close to giving up on it.  Not being one to give up easily, I started attending Mass again, either daily Mass, which is very prayerful and contemplative and which I love, or Sunday Mass.  And it felt like going home.

So, at this point, I've got a foot in both worlds.  My older two children are still involved, either with choir or with friends, in the Episcopalian church.  These things are very important to them, and I'm not tearing them away.  And I still enjoy Episcopalian worship.  I get to Mass as often as I can, either daily or Sunday, and have to restrain myself from volunteering there (Catholic churches always need volunteers!). 


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