Menu

S. Bradford Long

LGBT Writer, Yoga Teacher, Esoteric Christian

I Hate Church

I have to be honest: I hate going to church. Lately, my sponsor has been encouraging me to pick up church attendance again, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why I hate it so much: why I find it, at best, intolerable and boring, and at worst, painful and overwhelming.

I’m the son of two Charismatic, Presbyterian ministers. I’ve had my fair share of being immersed in all sorts of churches: Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Presbyterian, Evangelical, liberal, conservative, Pro-gay, Anti-gay, Pentecostal, Black Gospel (my mother pastored a black gospel church when I was a child), Baptist, and non-denominational. I find all of them excruciating. I’ve always found church lonely, or empty, or sad, or unbearable, or overwhelming. I’ve always felt this way – as a child, and as an adult. I’ve heard numerous stories about people who wander through a dry, churchless wasteland, and then finally come to a place they can call home. Not me. I’ve been a Christian (more or less) my whole life, and in all my twenty seven years, I have yet to experience such a home.

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that there is an incongruous message at the heart of church: that somehow “going to church” and “day of rest” are supposed to go together. Somehow worshiping with other Christians and sabbath rest are supposed to go hand in hand. They don’t. I don’t enjoy large crowds: they stress me out. I don’t enjoy loud music, or bad music. I don’t enjoy being bored to death by a pastor, or yelled at. I don’t enjoy small talk. I don’t enjoy having to hide or defend my sexual orientation. I do all that day in, day out, every day. I don’t enjoy coffee with strangers, and I don’t enjoy the keeping up appearances. Life is already a great charade. Why do I want to do all that exhausting, needless work on my day of rest? It wears me down, and down, and down. Yoga is relaxing. Praying, reading, contemplation, hiking, coffee with a good friend: those are restful. Church is not.

Church is work. Church will always be work, and perhaps that’s the point. Church is with other people, and community is one of the hardest things humanity can ever commit itself to. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will start going to church again, and that I will probably hate it. It might drive me to drink, and I might have to bring a book or two to keep my ADD brain from feeling tortured, but I will go. I might even talk to strangers over coffee, but I don’t have to pretend to like it, or them.

Perhaps the modern church would have more luck if they stopped this nonsensical message that rest and church go together. If I had been given the message that church is hard, and that I need to work at it, I might have stayed a church goer. So too a few of the others (I do not dare to speak for all) who have wandered away. Church is hard, ugly, and empty to many of us. If it’s supposed to be our rest, than we will take our rest elsewhere.

Someday I might come to love it, or perhaps only to like it. But that day will never come if I don’t work at it, and accept that, in the here and now, church is less about rest, and more about work.

Comments

Grace Uitterdijk says:

I think a big part of how you feel (and I feel exactly the same) is being an introvert and church forces you to do all the things introverts hate and avoid at all costs. I spent years outside the church and only have started going to a church again a few months ago. I still struggle with it and some days can’t face getting out of bed to go because I feel anxious at the very thought of all the noise and people and fakeness so sometimes I don’t go because I can’t make myself. Other times it is a source of relief-maybe one word or maybe simply eating the wine soaked bread feeds my soul to live another day with hope and love. It is hard work and I guess that’s the point.

sbradfordlong says:

Grace, thanks so much for commenting. You express the introvert struggle well. Since writing this article I’ve lucked out in finding a friendly episcopal church that respects my space. One thing I’v found helpful about the more liturgical traditions is that there’s extracurricular work as part of church, like the daily office. When I just can’t get to church because I feel like I will die if I see another human being, I can always pray the Daily Office and know that I am praying with thousands of others all over the globe. That’s been helpful for me.

Marc says:

Maybe you would like learning more about simple church or organic church practices.

Not sure why this post showing up in my feed today. Looks like you wrote it over a year ago.
Oh well, interesting read!

The United Church of Christ is the denomination in the US that is open and inclusive, inviting all, especially gay persons to come and worship and be involved in the life of the church. They were the first denomination to ordain an openly gay man (1972) and approved gay marriage 10 years before it became legal in the US (2005). Check out the UCC’s website at: http://www.ucc.org.

Dee SANDERS says:

As is the Episcopal Church! ALL are welcome at our table!

masha says:

You should try getting to know St. Mary of Egypt. She was incapable of entering a church building, fell in love with Christ, was baptised, and ran off the the desert to live alone in joyful fasting and prayer..she never really attended a church regularly, instead she found Christ in the desert. Maybe you belong in the desert? 🙂

S. Bradford Long says:

I have never heard of her! I think she might be my patron…

I read somewhere that that Ancient Israelites never worshipped on Sunday for the very reasons you described. However, when Christianity stated, they were often sharing the synagogues and ended up using Sundays because that was the day the Jewish people were not using the facilities. The theological justification for Sunday worship may have come later.

Great post! Community is hard, and so is church. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it isn’t.

Rachel Howe says:

I have been where you are and I understand completely. I have found a congregation that live streams their services. I log into church every Sunday and it has been a wonderful healing process from “church”. I can have church without “going” to church. I may someday go to church physically again but for now it is online and that makes me happy.

I’m 70 now…which may cause you to stop reading right here, but, I decided a long time ago, while wrestling with this same issue, that my day of rest is Saturday. Back when I was younger, I was involved in so many facets of the local church (sunday school teacher, choir, board member and number of committees) that, indeed, it was work for me. But I joined the church to find a useful place in my community. My faith in God was always a private and personal matter to me, so I didn’t ‘need’ a church but I did come to appreciate the support that I received there when I experienced some very bad events in my life. (the death of my 26 yr. old son being one) So I’ve been in and out of church most of my life. (in between bouts with bars and lots of pot-got all that behind me now). But I have an incredible faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the belief that my life has meaning and purpose. I hope you are able to find some enjoyment in the days ahead. Perhaps, depending on the church you’re at, and the speaker, you can go there anticipating what God may have to say ‘through’ the speaker. That’s always interesting. I’m guessing, if you listen intently next time you go, He will ‘say something’ through the speaker that will literally apply to exactly what this blog is about. Hope so.
Peace be with you, friend.

Ayani says:

Wonderful message, unadulterated and pure. I enjoyed your post! My hope is that you’re no longer tortured and you find happiness whether it’s in or out of church. Much love

S. Bradford Long says:

Thank you so much for your kind words

[…] been occupying an odd head space lately: reading a great deal about cults, and pondering my general resistance to going to church. I didn’t think they were connected, but it recently occurred to me that perhaps they are. […]

jafruhwirth says:

Coffee, being bored, bad music, small talk, and keeping up appearances – those are all excruciating yeah but not the reason we come together! I like the singing. That’s the #1 reason I go to church – to pray through song. I feel it vibrate my chestbones. When the reader reads the bible passages, my mind drifts off. When the pastor speaks, I think about his haircut, his crooked collar, his wrinkled alb. But when I am singing a hymn, I think only about the words coming through me. It’s magical! That’s why I go, and that’s why I don’t really like rock-n-roll church. I like to hold the hymnal, sing, and have that moment with God.

oneforjesus says:

I like church, although we recently left ours (see http://www.oneforjesus.net/all-i-want-in-a-church-is/ ) and are struggling right now through “searching for a church home” phase you alluded to.

But I totally relate to what you mean about how it’s very backwards to try and combine it with the day of rest. For many years, I went to a church that I chose (at least partly) because they had Saturday night services, so I practiced my Sabbath the way that I understand is sometimes done in Judaism: the Sabbath goes from sundown to sundown, and they basically time the service so that it is the last act of exertion you do before you transition into your day of rest. It was actually amazing doing it that way; I am sorry that it isn’t more common.

rjohn05 says:

Great read! Personally, I find it all fake and I just cannot take it seriously at this point. I am open to going back someday but right now I absolutely hate it. Church they way it’s commonly done today isn’t for everyone and it’s time some people realize that.

You need Traditional liturgy: Eastern or Western. It is work, it makes demands; but it is profoundly rewarding. Liturgy means “the public WORK” of entering into communion with God and also with the community of fellow believers.

The “rest” in Sabbath has come to resemble our culture’s sad — and unhealthy — substitute for resting. Resting today more often means collapsing. Rest is that stupor that follows the exhaustion and fatigue that are increasingly the common culmination of each day’s experience.

Genesis rest is another thing altogether.

God is thoroughly enjoying the festival of Creation. It is delightful. It does not deplete energy. With each new part created, the energy mounts. God stops and takes in each new piece of it. It’s all so good. The goodness of it all fills God’s lungs with delight and a divine “get up and go”. As it peaks, God blows all the wonderful power of energy and joy into Creation’s final masterpiece – us, you and I and all of us.

Snoring, mumbling and ranting are not Sabbath sounds. The sight of a hand cupped over a mouth, murmuring into another’s ear about “who should stay and who should go” is not a Sabbath vista.

The Sabbath visual is friends smiling, high-fiving and enjoying the stories of great things that have taken place, wide-eyed with expectation over greater things yet to come. Sabbath sound is the holy noise of laughter, merriment, hands clapping and glass clinking.

The US Bishops wrote a document on liturgy where they described it as God’s people coming together to makes signs of love to each other. They gave a cheerful affirmation that what they called “good liturgy” is able to strengthen faith. And they gave a stern warning that what they called “bad liturgy” can destroy faith.

I used to love church. I went religiously. After i got married, church dropped by the wayside. In university, in Theological studies, one theologian writes about the “pillars” of Christian practice, “going to church and being in community” was one of them. When my Catholic pastor was reassigned from the university chapel, I stopped going.

For a while I attended the downtown Anglican Cathedral for a long time. But over time even the Anglicans could not offer me what I was really missing, inside, “The Tabernacle.” And add to that a very good friend of mine was ordained in the Anglican Cathedral, and his ego took over, and that turned me off a great deal, I could not be bothered with a friend with a huge ego.

Sadly, where I live, in downtown Montreal, Anglo Catholic Churches are few and far between, but the number of churches in Montreal is astronomical. I just can’t be bothered to get up on a Sunday morning and go through the trouble of four seasons travel, (Winter is truly a bitch) to go to church.

Now that I have been in the rooms for more than fourteen years, I spend an inordinate amount of time in church basements as it is. And I find that I witness God more often in the rooms, among my friends, than I ever did sitting in the pews upstairs.

If a good man was pastor of a church I could get to, later in the day or even the evening, I would consider it a go. But as it is, Four nights a week I am in a church basement, and two other nights, I am sitting in a Chabad House for my other two meetings. So I got God covered across the board.

Your sponsor may be encouraging you to find a spiritual path, and maybe that path is through a church. Go to Church, be part of, that is also part and parcel of being in the rooms, getting used to community and groups of people. Do Not limit yourself by your prejudices and issues.

At least give it a try, and if that doesn’t work, then at least you made an effort to take a suggestion by your sponsor. Sponsors usually give good suggestions. And if you trust him/her, then you should take the direction and do as you are asked. This might be part of your spiritual journey of sobriety.

Cheers, Jeremy in Montreal.

My wife and I recently left our church for several months because we felt it had become too much of an event and less a community. I too hate the small talk, the crowds, and feeling herded to take communion (isn’t it supposed to be a family meal?). Recently we went back. Nothing about the church changed. However, my perspective has changed. Church isn’t the thing that takes place on Sunday mornings (or whenever it meets). Church is the people who gather and live out the mission of God everyday. My only church experience had been that once a week gathering and it sucked the life out of me. I really feel that to do church right I need to find people with a similar passion for community engagement and link arms with them – like them, dislike them, meh them. Just like blood family, you can’t choose your church family – you learn to love them or at least tolerate them.

In terms of rest, I choose a different day for Sabbath. I agree with you, church is more work and has typically not been restful. I need a day to unplug and rest and the day I go to the church event is not that day.

Thank you for your honesty in posting this. We all need more vulnerability in our conversations and lives.

myrtlemartha says:

I notice you didn’t mention having tried attending Quaker meetings.

S. Bradford Long says:

I have been attending quaker meetings on and off. It’s the closest thing to church that I can stomach.

mastrait says:

So glad I started following you, once again I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

“Church,” at least what purports to be church today is total crap. It’s all about making money, building buildings, creating hierarchies to oppress people. Once in a great while there is a church that actually does some good for society, but even then they tend to spend a lot of their intake for overhead.

Matthew 18:20 ~ King James Bible
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

That of course was reportedly the words of Jesus himself. Interestingly enough, Matthew is the only Gospel to report this “teaching.” Could it be that when the Gospel of Matthew was written, some 70 YEARS after the death of Jesus, folks already started to pick and choose what they wanted in His teachings?

Enough of that, I find spirituality in my connection to individuals, often one on one, sometimes in large gatherings, like the Bernie Sanders rally in Portland I attended months ago. I always find my connection when I can be honest about my motivation with regards to each encounter.

Being selfless does not come easy to me, but even my vain attempts will often bear amazing fruit in my relationship with people and my universe.

Cheers

A. Rodriguez says:

I am a pastor. Church is work for me, obviously. But in most of my dealings with people who struggle to both come to the Sunday gathering and to be a part of a local church, my most common refrain is that, “It’s really, really hard.” It is work. And that’s ok. Lots of worthwhile things require work. Get your sabbath rest on after you’re done worshipping with the people of God. I melt into a puddle shortly after coming home every week. I feel pretty okay about that.

AsISeeItOnly says:

It appears to me that what you hate are steeple houses. Gatherings–however small-that feed your very soul, that both rip you up and put you back together again, are what you seek.

aaron3moore says:

Now there’s some brutal honesty, haha. I’m such an incredible extrovert, so for me a community event like going to church is recharging, and settling down for contemplative prayer by myself is hard. I honestly hadn’t considered what it’s like for someone on the other side of the neural aisle! In my faith (Episcopal) there are two major obligations that all ought to keep as normative Christian practice; that is Sunday attendance and the Daily Office. If my Church was like the RCC and they had Eucharist every morning I’d much prefer to do that, even though I KNOW the spiritual rewards that come from settling down with my coffee and doing the damned prayers (lately they often end in tears I find them so moving). It’s just hard, and developing the habit is terribly taxing. I find I do well for a week before finding something shiny to do instead. Guess we both have to bite the bullet on it. 😉

I am finally home at GRACEPOINTE Church in Franklin, TN. Started “attending” via the Livestream on their website. I now long to be with my church family every Sunday and anytime we have the opportunity. If church is that much “work”, you are in the wrong church! Something very special is happening at GRACEPOINTE after their inclusion stance, and I’m grateful to be part of it!

Dan says:

I dreaded church as a child and the Sunday drive afterwards. I like this post.

Leave a Reply