1. I Don’t Like Going to Church
I really don’t like to go. I went when I was growing up because I was supposed to. I don’t remember it having a large impact on my life. I didn’t go in college. I went some but my community in those days was the dormitory and church camp. When I went to church in seminary, it was more like career exploration. In the twenty years I went to church because I was paid to go to church, I often asked myself, would I go to church if I didn’t have to go? Turns out, the answer is no. In the nearly five years I’ve been out of professional church work, I have not attended church all that much. I went, for a while, because I was required to do so by my bishop having to do with things pertaining to reasons 3, 4, & 7.
I go to church a little more now, with my family, especially when I am asked to supply for my priest (for which I am paid a helpful honorarium), or when I want to reconnect with friends. I struggle with our liturgy. I find it rote and lacking creativity. Okay, so Cranmer was brilliant. But that was a long time ago. What, we got no more brilliance that can help us pray in a way that makes sense for our 21st century reality? I value ritual, but ritual that makes sense in a language and context that makes sense. BTW, Saint Cranmer, I’m done with the atonement theology that is wrapped throughout your masterpiece. Can we please get over ourselves and know we have been loved, are currently loved, and will be loved forever. “We are not so much worthy to gather the the crumbs…” Are you kidding me? Fuck that. Move on people. This is ridiculous. We talk about the sanctity of creation, the holiness and the beauty of the earth, and yet we refer to ourselves as decrepit, disastrous, damned? No wonder I don’t like going to church. The liturgy doesn’t just bore me, it pisses me off. I’m tired of these words that don’t say what I believe. (BTW, for those of you can identify with Reason #4, I think you should get a blog and just write. I think it may help reduce my medicine intake and therapy co-pay).
During the process of considering myself as bishop, I acknowledged what I try to acknowledge in this writing. I asked people about church. I asked them about their faith. Many people I know love the liturgy. I love some of the music we have. But I went a long time without the Eucharist. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t feel less loved by God. I felt, sometimes, criticized by others by not doing what was seen as my duty or obligation.
When I go to church I see people I love and that love me. That’s a good reason to go, I suppose. But I rarely leave worship satisfied. I feel I’ve completed something, in the way I’ve turned in an assignment, but not in the way I feel when I write a song, or dance, or get excited about seeing friends at a cool event.
It’s a big part of a bishop’s job description, to go to church. Maybe it’s easier on a bishop because they don’t have to go to the same church every Sunday. Maybe it’s harder, because they don’t have a community around them in the same way a parish priest does. I think one reason I don’t go to church as much as I use to is because I have a very strong community where I live. People know who I am, support me and my family; they genuinely care for and love us. It’s a wonderful gift. Guess what. Many people, in the category above, don’t identify themselves as Christian. At all. Some have another tradition, some have no tradition and are not into metaphysics. Some don’t speak much about what they believe or don’t believe. I still marvel that I have such a strong community here and yet we have such differing approaches to the Big Picture. I had a priest colleague who told me he envied me in that regard.
I worried that had I become a bishop, that I would have gotten back into the church vortex and lose my connection with people who don’t share some pretty important foundational things with me, like my faith in Christ or my baptismal commitments. Perhaps the issue here, is that I might need to redefine what is foundational for me. Yes, my friends and I might differ about how we think the world is put together and which way you point your head when you pray and how many times you can you say Alleluia during Lent before some nee’r-do-well angel with a hard-on for detail reports you to the higher-ups. So to speak.
But we care about our planet, we care about our futures, we care about our motorcycles most of all. It’s not perfect, but its of value, real, and, to me, holy and sacred.
It doesn’t appear we differ in more things that are, perhaps the most foundational: How we treat one another on a daily basis. How we talk about each other. How we pay attention to one another’s lives. When I did church work, I thought that what I had to offer was community. And, of course, that is a major part of what I think the church does need to offer. The clergy and bishops and other leadership of the institution that don’t get that, well, please see reason #8 and consider yourselves appropriately cussed out. I have community here. It includes a Eucharistically centered community, and all flippancy aside (I’m trying to build a readership, damn it) that is important to me. If I didn’t have such strong community here, I would probably look to the church for more of that. If I move and teach at an international school in Kazakhstan or Argentina or Scottsdale, then maybe I’d use the church to find community and connection elsewhere.
My main community is not eucharistic, it is geographical, socio-economic, and cultural. It includes a 12-step community. It has been a tremendous resource for me as I have negotiated important changes in my life. In considering the episcopacy, I knew I would miss this community and I worried about that. Now that I know that I’m not to be a bishop, I can take what I have less for granted and give thanks. My community is no more utopian than that of anyone else, it has plenty of challenges. Perhaps what I am learning, as a man who wants to be helpful and offer something born out of experience, is that, as my dear mother has said for many years, “You can’t put God in a box.” Thanks Mom.
For now, I remain on the margins. That’s not a bad place to be. The margins of a circle are where the margins of other circles intersect and overlap. I don’t know if that’s good geometry, but it’s working for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have been that lousy of a bishop, but I was relieved to find out it’s not going to happen. I put it out there. I took it seriously. I may even have prayed about it. I think a few others did pray on my behalf. Thanks for that support, and for the support of your time and attention in considering this blog.
Be happy, people. Find your way. Life is too fragile and short for less noble pursuits. Amen.
I live in southeastern Arizona where I teach high school history. My home is very close to US/MX border and the border and the countries it divides are very close to my heart. For a little over twenty years, I served the Episcopal church as a priest, but now I work as a teacher. I use sethpolley.com for my writing website, but I also have another site, seteoblog.wordpress.com where I write a blog. At this point in my writing career I have received a couple of honorable mentions in writing contests, and have self-published two short monographs. I'm planning on continuing to write and look forward to the time when I can devote more time to it.
Thanks for visiting.