I wrote this in July 2015. I've been sitting on it for a while.
Although they both grew up in church, my parents trace their real conversion to the time of my mother's pregnancy with me. I was born as they were born again.
As a family, we worked our way through Methodism, Union Congregationalist, Nazarene, Southern Baptist, Swedish Baptist, charismatic, Bible, non-denominational and probably others I'm forgetting. The variety was mostly owed to our constant moving around, but I thought it gave me a fairly good idea of the scope of Protestant Christianity.
Of course, I did not understand that these were primarily evangelical churches bent toward the conservative and marked by their regions. I didn't know what a "mainline" denomination was and I certainly didn't consider that a person could be an actual Christian without attending any sort of church.
I began to grow weary of church in my twenties but still wanted to worship with others. I found myself in a community of believers who felt the same way - burned out but not ready to throw in the towel. Millenials ready for something new (modern music, cool pastors, artsy environment) with a nod to the past (liturgy, hymns, saints). I met my husband here and experienced true "community" - a sharing of lives that was authentic and compassionate. "Social justice" was a buzzword that actually led to action. And (gasp) women were allowed to do things like preach and be a deacon.
This was a great place for me until it wasn't. I became disillusioned with the cult personalities and the inconsistencies. Its ties to a denomination couldn't be hidden forever and the nuances of inequality became apparent. It was time to move on, again, grateful for experiences had and lessons learned.
My husband and I embarked on a "church tour", visiting mainline and fringe and everything Christian in between. We kept this up long enough to land at a Black Methodist church that we attended and adored until we moved abroad.
Methodists on the other side of the Pond are similar but different, and we felt welcome enough in the church the next village over that we stayed. Lay-led and tiny, we did a lot of work, and mostly that was ok. There was a rather classic divide between old and young. They were headed for a split when I had a baby and we decided it was time to find somewhere else.
The sleeplessness of early motherhood did not inspire me to get up for a service I didn't absolutely love, so we didn't go much of anywhere during the first year of my daughter's life. We had conversations about what church was and who God is and why we even needed/wanted corporate worship gatherings. I grew up hearing and feeling that without substantial Christian fellowship and in-depth Bible-teaching one would surely backslide or become complacent.
We ended up at a small Quaker meetinghouse with the notion that the Friends advocate peace and justice and simplicity and we needed/stood for those things. Prior research on silent worship did not prepare us for the responsibility of it. Sharing the Light with others and Listening to the Spirit is a lot more daunting than it seems. In the first meeting, I really think I heard God say, "I'm still here, we just have to do a lot of excavation."
So that's what it's been the last 9 months, excavating.
Having a child challenges your thinking on most things. What sort of faith environment do we want our daughter to experience? What kind of messages do we want her to receive as she grows up?
I learned a lot of great faith lessons throughout my formative years and my closest relationships were formed through church. I'm grateful for my evangelical upbringing and my spiritual framework.
However, I absorbed some negative lessons that I'm trying to undo and don't want to pass on. Explicitly and implicitly, the Christian subculture propagated battles of culture wars that I don't think were/are worth it.
Did you know that committed Christians can also be Democrats, gay, pro-choice, feminists, and pacificists? I didn't get that memo from much of my church experience.
So now that we've chosen to be a part of a worship community that is, in many ways, radically different from the churches of my youth, I feel rather untethered. It feels like I'm being unfaithful to my church tradition, cheating on my subculture and disappointing my family.
Quakers favor equality so much that they don't even have a hierarchy (all are equal in the family of God, and even my 2-year-old daughter is considered a minister). The idea that a woman couldn't be a leader in ministry would be ludicrous. They are LGBTQ affirming - meaning they don't just think it's not the worst thing to not be straight, LGBTQ folks are actually full and open members/ministers. As peace is a cornerstone of Quakerism, there are no battle cries of winning souls and culture. The Bible is the most important spiritual text, but might not be 100% accurate, and the Q'uran and Buddha have some useful things to say. In a silent meeting, no one is going to spell out the Gospel, but they trust the Spirit. Heaven and hell aren't clearly defined and the Light doesn't stop extending past those who tick all the boxes of traditional Christian tasks.
I had hoped Quakerism would be a nice break. But it's a challenge. I have to take more responsibility for my spiritual growth than when I followed the outline provided in previous churches. I have to evaluate, with more openness, the Light in others.
I also struggle to communicate this without sounding like I've somehow left Christianity altogether. Or that I think those faithful to evangelical churches and the associated tenets are delusional, misinformed, or hateful. Each time we would visit a church, we'd say something like, "I can tell God is working here and I can see why this works for the people who are a part of it." It just doesn't have to work for us.
God is everlasting but institutions aren't. The way we interpret the Bible and hear Jesus and teach each other is subjective. Changing hopefully means growth, not regression. We could decide to try something different altogether sometime soon (Mennonite? Church of England?).
We are all seeking God in our way, together. This should be a reason for joy and comfort - a way positively tie us to our past and move us forward in Love.