I miss my old church. I was a member there for about twenty years before I moved down south, and I was pretty darn involved considering that for the last several years of my membership, I would’ve identified myself as an atheist. Despite what you might imagine, I didn’t give any thought at all to whether my disbelief made me a hypocrite or a pretender. I just assumed it didn’t matter. We were the most accepting church in town, and that assertion was borne out in the overwhelming numbers of us who were “theater people.” We also seemed to produce quite a few LGBT folks (myself included) considering the size of our congregation, and for the most part, we’re all still a part of one another’s lives, albeit only occasionally.
The church felt like a second home to me when I was a kid. I sang in the adult choir from the time I was 10, and at 17 I co-directed the children’s choir. It was the heyday of the church in terms of membership numbers, and the pastor was always happy to see me coming. Until his retirement a couple years ago, he announced me every time I visited: “Here’s our star, everybody!” “Oh, we’d love to have her back singing for us again, wouldn’t we?” It became more than a little irritating to me as I got older, experienced more of the world, and saw the really shitty side of the clergy life/mentality. Let me just say this: nobody pays me to attend the church or synagogue I end up going to, and so I don’t believe it is EVER my job to make the job of the paid clergy easier. And yet I know I do it unintentionally.
Maybe it’s because I am my mother’s daughter. Since I was a kid, I’ve been aware of Mama being sought out at family gatherings, at my school events…anyplace where people got together regularly and were even vaguely familiar with one another. She told funny stories. She had good ideas and well-informed opinions, and she listened with a sympathetic heart. Of course people wanted to be around her. It was only in recent years that I realized she actually hated the attention, and that her ideal place of worship was one where she could go in and disappear, where she could get what she needed and then leave. Well, I have pretty much the same issue. I don’t mean to garner so much attention. Hell, I don’t mean to garner ANY attention. I want to go in and sing my favorite hymns, hear a good message, pop a few doughnuts, hug my favorite old ladies, hold a few babies and leave. I don’t want to be roped into whatever catty competition is going on for choir solos. I don’t want to participate in the gossip mill or speculate on whose kids went to church camp for free. I don’t want to cringe every time I hear the prayer list recited in church, knowing that fifty percent of the people on it would be mortified and/or angry if they knew. I just want it to be easy and good and refreshing. Otherwise, how the hell could I ever persuade myself to exchange it for my comfortable bed on a Sunday morning?
I worry that I will never find anything like that if I decide to go church shopping, and that’s not just an idle and unsupported assumption on my part: Mama’s been looking for a good long while. That being said, we haven’t been back to the church of my youth since the old minister retired, and I think we’re both wondering how things are looking over there now that a lot of the bad blood has been shuffled off into retirement. The new guy looks promising. I’d even say “liberal.” And I’m given to understand that there are some new members.
I wonder how close it is to the church of my youth. Back then, I had no idea there was gossip or meanness or hateful politics or jealousy operating in the background, and I was young enough to live in the dark about that stuff without causing myself harm. Nowadays, I’m all too aware of it, but I can steer clear most of the time using my handy-dandy skills as a good judge of character. The thing is, I don’t want to have to steer clear. I want to go to a place that I actually want to be, and I want to be treated exactly like everyone else, not as some social stand-in for the clergyman. I don’t get paid to be the center of attention. And you couldn’t pay me enough, because that shit’s exhausting.
Can’t I just go and enjoy myself and leave? Please? I think this week I’m going to give the choir director a call and see how things are over there. She’s one of my favorite people in the universe, and I’m hoping I can talk her into giving me a straight answer.