Yesterday, I went back to church. Church with a capital C.
If you know anything about me, you'll know that I was raised Catholic, and went through 14 years of Catholic grade school and high school hell. This was filled with endless Wednesday morning masses which were always followed by choir practice. Thank God I never wanted to be an altar boy. It wasn't as though I didn't consider it. I just didn't want to get up that early in the morning. There was always something inherently distasteful about going to church as a child. It didn't feel like a treat. It was a chore. There was only one way of doing things and it was by the Catholic Church's teachings.
Around the time of the 2004 Presidential Elections, I had already came out in high school and our lovely deacon decided to go on a tangent about the sanctity of marriage ala "the gays can suck it". My mom graciously told me I did not have to accompany them to church after that. She herself had to leave a few years later after this same deacon (or monsignor..who the fuck can keep the different pompous titles straight anyway?)went off on gay rights again, and then, just for good measure, went after pro-choice women. Hence to say, my family's a little divided on the subject of religion.
My grandmother (may she rest in peace) was a fervent Catholic, but also a wonderfully generous and kind woman who loved me unconditionally. I feel that her naivety in some matters towards the church hurt her, yet in the long run, it didn't seem to matter. She died with her faith fully in tact and in support of the catechism.
Since I've moved out here to Boston, I've thought about trying a new church from time to time. The United Church of Christ is a very friendly nationwide, inclusive organization. One such church (which I'll not name) is located in Jamaica Plain near my work. So I went.
Lesbians and gays ahoy! They were everywhere. I'm sure there are plenty of catholic gays and lesbians, but not at St. Joe's in Canton, Ohio. So hence to say, I was a bit shocked. But after that initial shock wore off, I felt a great sense of welcoming...at first.
Later on in the service, it felt more like a recruitment center.
"Join the Marines!" was the initial vibe I got from the men and women in attendance there.
"You should join our book club!"
"There's another young gay man who's here for the first time as well. You should sit with him!"
You, you, you. It started to sound like a cult.
And then probably the worst thing happened. During one of the readings (I think it was the second Saturday of Easter...who really cares?), I realized something.
"Oh God, not this story again! Not the story about Jesus and Peter and the loaves of bread and fish!"
Isn't there anything new to read, I wondered. But that's the problem. I've heard all the stories before. That's one of the main problems with religion and with church in general. Histories and literature are recycled constantly. This isn't necesarily a bad thing, but it gets stagnant pretty fast for someone like me.
So what's one to do? Become an atheist? An agnostic? Nah, not for me. I do believe that some kind of higher power exists outside of myself. I'm not disciplined enough to try Buddhism or Hinduism. And I'm only converting to Judaism if I marry a Jewish doctor (I gest!).
There's always been a kind of allure about religion to me. Not so much the priests and the customs and traditions, but I've always been fascinated by nuns. The Nun's Story with Audrey Hepburn, Agnes of God with Anne Bancroft, heck, even Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg. There's something serenly beautiful and calming about living a chaste life devoted to God. And then, I wake up.
But yesterday, I went to the United Parish in Brookline. They have a tradition where if anyone's a new member or "visitor" that person must stand up in front of the congregation and receive a flower. Now, this part I was digging from the very beginning. I've always been a boy that likes getting flowers. And even if it was only a singular pink carnation, it still smelled sweetly and the gesture was quite lovely.
I didn't know any of the songs, except "How Great Thou Art" (which I only knew because Dixie Carter's Julia Sugarbaker sang it on an episode of Designing Women), but it didn't seem to matter. The minister was a woman, which was another huge plus. I've always done better with women in positions of authority (mom, my boss, Katharine Hepburn, you name it!) and this woman had a sweet disposition to her nature.
In her homily (I don't know what they call it in Protestant churches), she talked about her struggle as a child to actually feel God's presence under strict catechism. It hit close to home.
I've always been one of those people who've always been guilty of only praying when the chips are down.
"Please God, let me get an A in this course!"
"Please God, let me get a new job!"
But sometimes, it's better just to be thankful for what you have, and to pray that it stays that way.
I don't know if I'll keep going back to the United Parish, but I do know, that I felt very welcome. And that's a start.