June 15, 2018

Do You Ever Miss Church?

Belalie North. The former Methodist Church. The church operated from 1923 to closure in 1995. It is now a residence.I was asked this question recently by a Christian who knows I am an atheist who does not attend church. The manner in which the question was presented told me that she was genuinely curious and that this was not going to be an invitation to go to church with her or involve threats of hell. When Christians demonstrate this sort of curiosity, I am usually happy to interact with them.

I thought about my answer for a moment. I wanted to make sure I was being honest, thoughtful, not forgetting anything, and not responding reflexively. The last few years I attended church involved my parents forcing me to do so against my will. It should come as no surprise that I do not have fond memories of church during this time. I was very angry about having to be there, and I hated every minute of it. Undoubtedly, that experience has shaped my attitudes toward church.

I struggled to look back before that period to the many years I attended church with my family without protesting (much). Try as I might, I found myself unable to recall anything I enjoyed about it. I remember being happy when my parents would let me sit through the sermon with them instead of running off to Sunday school with the younger children, but that was only because I found sitting through the sermon preferable to the arts and crafts that always seemed to be the focus. I didn't hate church then, but there was always someplace I'd rather be and something else I'd rather be doing. It was wasted time.

The closest thing I can think of missing that had anything to do with church was the charitable work loosely associated with it. I've always enjoyed helping others, and I never understood why this was not emphasized more than it was at the church I attended. Once a year, our church teamed up with a couple other churches for a large food drive. We'd go door-to-door collecting food donations, transport them to a massive storage facility in the basement of one of the largest churches in town, where they would remain until they were distributed to poor families in the community. Most of the recipients of these donations would be older adults in poor health living on their own. Strangely, this was the only charitable activity I can recall our church being involved in. I don't think I can count this as something I missed about church because it was so marginally associated with church.

"No, I cannot say that I have ever missed church" was my eventual reply. I believe it was honest. I can't say I've ever thought that I'd like to attend church again.

How about you? For those of you who used to attend church and no longer do so, is there anything you miss that might lead you to consider going again?