Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Before anyone freaks out, the Beloved and I are fine. It's not that kind of a breakup. But...it still sucks.

I have been a pretty regular church-goer for most of my life. My Mother is a church organist, so church was simply part of our lives growing up. My sister and I were expected to sing. My father was expected to play trumpet on special occasions. We went to Sunday School (though not always at the church where Mom worked), we had our first communions, we were confirmed.

When I went to college, I pretty much ditched church. I didn't like the place where Mom was working--it was just way more conservative than I was...or am ever likely to be. At the end of my freshman year, she took a new job with a different church in town--one of the Episcopal churches--and she asked if I would go, just once, to see her new place. Just once, I promised. And so I went one late spring or early summer morning in 1995...and I kept going. As long as I was in town, I went to church. And I became involved on an adult level. I sang in the choir. I gave a pledge. I was a lector. When things got hard financially, I stepped up and learned about Mutual Ministry. I developed a church school program heavily based on Godly Play. I became a representative to convocation and convention and attended the convention that elected Gene Robinson the 9th Episcopal Bishop of NH.

I loved that community--I was married in that church. My daughter was baptized there. I honestly expected that I would die there and my ashes would be buried in the Columbarium. But, as the song says, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. Everything changes. Even communities. And sometimes the change leaves you behind.

Things had not been great for a while. My Mom had had some problems and seriously considered quitting. Apparently, mean kids still exist when you're in your 50s, and they still suck. I had some angst about what I would do if she left--would I stay? Would I go? But things got...better...tolerable anyway. So she stayed. And then they got worse for me.

I should start out by explaining that C has grown up in the church and therefore has no fear of it. She would gleefully run around and play. She'd chatter with her friends. Also, she's three, so voice modulation is something we have not mastered. I really did try to keep her quiet--I brought snacks and water and quiet toys--but none of these things compare to OMGplaymates. So, we had started to get comments regarding her...vivacity.

Then came a new priest. And with the new priest came new complaints--not directly from the priest, but from a small group of parishioners. C is loud. C is distracting. You need to keep her quiet. As far as I can tell, the parents of other children (who you can bet were not sitting all quiet and angelic-like) were not approached and chastised. I'm not sure why I was singled out, but there you have it.

Next came the decision to move the Sunday School classroom to a location known as "The Bride's Room," a small room off of the Narthex (entryway), where, traditionally, the bride would put on finishing touches and wait to make her big entrance. The dimensions of the room are 15' x 7.5'...giving a grand total of 112.5 square feet to hold two adults and a class of children. I had some serious concerns about safety issues in a room of that size, and I was irritated that the decision was made without ever notifying parents. So, I asked the Safe Church Minister if changes would be made to allow the room to meet Safe Church standards. I e-mailed the priest and the senior warden with my concerns. And I got a phone call back from the priest in which I was told that she never wanted to receive a letter like that again and that any concerns I had needed to be brought up in person. None of my actual concerns were addressed, except to say that the current head of the Sunday School program approved it, so it must be fine.

This about made my head explode. But, I thought, she's really busy right now. There's a big service coming up. This was probably a bad time to raise these concerns. I will give it another few weeks. And in those few weeks I was told that again, it was not my problem, because, actually, the teachers (the head teacher anyway) did not want C in Sunday School--3 is too young; they only want children 5 and older. Also, if they leave the door to the classroom open, everything should be fine, right?

Finally, on Palm Sunday, I got yelled at because C and the other children were swordfighting with palms during the sermon and didn't I know my child was really loud and distracting?

And that was it for me. I told my Mother that I wasn't going to ditch her during Holy Week and that I would sing all of the services, but I would no longer bring C, because apparently my ideas of open and welcoming to all no longer meshed with those held by the church, and I didn't particularly want my child learning the lessons they were offering. A lesson that says we will put children into a glorified storage closet in order to make way for a church cafe. A lesson that says the needs of adults will always be greater than your needs. A lesson that says berating your mother for allowing you to act like a 3 year old is what church leadership should do.

I had moments where I wondered if I was being hasty and then on Good Friday I found out I was pregnant again and I knew I couldn't go back. I need to be in a place that's going to help me teach my child--not a place that's just going to tell me all the ways I'm doing it wrong.

Since then, I've had a couple of e-mails or phone calls from people asking if I'll consider coming back, asking what happened, apologizing for whatever pissed me off so much. It's hard, because there are a lot--perhaps most of the people there--who I really do miss. Leaving this church feels like leaving part of myself behind. It feels like being estranged from family. It has been one of the hardest things I've done in my adult life.

In the meantime, C and I have been to a couple of different churches. We basically switch off between the Lutheran Church in town where I had my first communion and was confirmed a hundred thousand years ago, and an Episcopal Church a couple of towns over. Neither feels like home yet. But neither has ever said anything other than We're so happy to see you and your daughter, or, on a particularly...busy...morning with C at the Episcopal Church, Wow! You sure had your hands full this morning!

I hope it will get better. Just like any breakup, I'm sure it will just take a lot of time. And, in the long run, I hope that by doing this I'm teaching C about the importance not only of community, but of finding the right community and knowing when it's best to move on, even if it's hard and it hurts.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

I am most emphatically NOT a churchgoer (that is putting it mildly) so I am probably not the best person to comment on the issue....but I've never understood why so many churches take the whole old-school "children should be seen and not heard" saying to such an extreme. Especially given the whole "go forth and multiply!" thing (which, in some places, really translates into an EXPECTATION of a large family!) In my view, a place that is not welcoming of my whole family is not a place I care to be. Yes, obviously, one tries to teach their toddler how to behave appropriately in public...but come on. At two and three years old, there's only so much you can expect!

Heather said...

Sigh... unfortunately, btdt. Our small town church was originally very welcoming, until they discovered that the beautiful blue eyed sprite we adopted was not, in fact, a young toddler, but a tiny nearly 5 y/o with special needs. After insisting he not be left in the nursery, or the supply closet (with a capable young teen, but, no), we were asked to not bring him back to Sunday School. We have found a new church home, one that surfs his intensity with ease. It can be done. It took us 3 years, though, and the decision that a new church home would be about the best fit for him, not necessarily for us.