Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Called up on the Carpet

Last Sunday at noon I was called up on the carpet. Being put on the spot and required to account for oneself is an experience that usually happens when one is  a child or teenager. As I've grown older, the number of authority figures in my life has fallen off considerably, so being asked to explain myself was a mildly unpleasant surprise.

The situation was this:  Back in the fall of 2012, my husband, Roger, and I decided to give church a try, so we found a house of worship of the liberal Protestant denomination in which we were both raised, and attended about six times.  I also got involved in a marginal way with one church group and attended three or four meetings. In the spring of 2013 we decided not to attend any more, for a variety of good reasons. I unsubscribed from the emailed weekly bulletin. We had forged no strong ties, and I hoped that, once the summer had passed, our absence would not be noticed.

Then, one Sunday this October, our doorbell rang and I found a sweet, elderly church pillar standing in the rain, hand-delivering the church newsletter. I said I was sorry he'd come out in the rain, especially since we didn't plan to return, that church "wasn't working for us" - a nice non-committal phrase I'd learned from watching Oprah. He said that was O.K. I felt a twinge of sadness that our attempt at  participation in a community hadn't been more satisfactory, but life is short, and when you get older you have to set priorities.

Then, at noon last Sunday, the minister of the church phoned us and wondered WHY we wanted to be "taken off the church rolls." I hadn't realized we were actually on the church rolls; I thought we hadn't gotten to that stage yet. Anyhow, I said that church "wasn't working out for us" so we had decided to quit, and  I preferred not going into the reasons.  The minister persisted, pressing me for an explanation. So finally I told her that the services were not uplifting, nor did they reflect the new historical approach to the Bible (as in the work of John Dominic Crossan and others.) I added that we couldn't afford to support the church financially in the way it seemed to want to be supported.

She said she appreciated my candour and I hoped the uncomfortable discussion was at an end. Then she said she understood I'd written "one or two books" (more like "fourteen or fifteen") and  wanted to tell me about her writing career. I finally said I hadn't wanted  this conversation but had hoped to quietly fade away, and I got off the line.

The experience left me jarred. It reminded me once again of our failed attempt to find a group of people where we fit in. I also had a childish feeling that I may have disappointed some of my older relatives who were staunch Christians and church-goers, and who might be looking down at me from on high.

I talked to three women friends about being "called on the carpet."  One said she was thankful she was Jewish, because Jews don't proselytise.  Another said that she was not a believer, but that she knew there were many people around, unaffiliated with churches, who were religious "on their own terms." She added that she thought the minister was pretty bold to have phoned us at home.

The third friend, a faithful member of another mainstream Protestant church, said that she used to attend a church of the denomination that we'd tried, and that the members had been very much "on her case", always saying, "We missed you last Sunday," or "You have to make time for God," when she was absent. Her present church, she says, doesn't pester people.

Back in the fall of 2012 I mentioned to one of my nieces that we were giving church a try. "I'd like to find a place where everybody knows your name and everyone is glad you came," I told her. She said, "Ruth, that's a line from the theme song of the TV show, Cheers. Cheers was not a church, but a bar."

1 comment:

  1. I had meant to comment when I first read this posting but didn't. I was too busy with moving. Today I remembered it for a very special reason.
    Today I officially became a member of Faith Lutheran Church in St. Catharines In early November I first tentatively went to a service. Several people greeted me, made sure I knew where to hang my coat, that I had a hymn book and bulletin etc. After the service somebody of course made sure to involve me in a conversation and make sure I sign the guest book. I did not have to lie when I claimed I could not remember my new telephone number. I also skipped joining people for coffee. The next Sunday I was greeted like a neighbour one sort of knows. Coffee for me this time. No service the next Sunday, I was told since the congregation would join another one in Fort Erie for a service where a well-known local trio would sing. If I wanted to come, would I like to get a ride with somebody? So I went - and enjoyed the music and the company. - Today I was officially accepted as a member. I noticed a wooden sign on the altar reading 'Welcome'. The children's sermon - after the regular one - was using that sign. Then I stepped forward to be introduced to the congregation. There were hugs and smiles, then, after the service, a cake (and I don't usually eat cake) and the choir sang to the tune of Happy Birthday something like Happy Welcome. -
    Your experience is truly sad. Once we retire some like you may look towards a church for different reasons. For me the music and the outreach work as well as meeting people who shared my desire to support programs for those who need help was the deciding factor to join a church. Your experience might explain why church membership is declining.
    Karin Seidemann