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.