by Carrie Willard
I’ve had a dozen or so church rant posts in the hopper for the past few months, and they kind of ferment and sometimes die. The theme is usually Kids In Church, which is one of my accidental passions. I really never thought I’d have so much to say about it, but apparently I have some pretty strong opinions about where my little people belong. They can usually be boiled down to this: We All Belong Here. And: Be Nice. Also: Save Your Dirty Looks For Traffic. See also: Come Sit By Me.
But, why do I bring them to church at all? I bring them for the same reason that I bring myself. We need practice. We need practice sitting with people who may or may not look like us or vote like us or think like we do. We need practice asking for forgiveness, and walking to the altar. We need practice singing together. Sometimes it feels right, and sometimes it feels uncomfortable and weird. We’ve had a recent family discussion about what we wear to church, and re-examining what it means to wear our “best” to church. If our best turns out to be my seven-year-old’s favorite shirt, collar or not, so be it. I want my kids to like church, but it’s ok if they don’t. They always want to go, even if it’s the one hour a week they don’t get screen time or running races. They like it there, and they’re learning to practice alongside me.
None of these ideas are new or original to me. Anne Lamott talks about life as Forgiveness School. I’ve heard sermons about our walk to the altar, and how it’s practice for walking together, through the world, toward God. Brené Brown talks about our need for connection, and church is one of those places where we find connection.
I need the practice more than anyone. There’s this idea that clergy and clergy families have some kind of bullet-proof faith, and that we’re immune to doubt and falling. I think one up-and-down glance at me would dispel any notions of perfection, but just in case it doesn’t, I’m here to tell you that I have spent countless nights doubting and worrying and raging. I’ve called friends late at night, wondering aloud if it’s all a load of manure. I’ve chewed on Jesus’ words on anxiety, and found them impossible to swallow. I need help.
I want my kids to have a place to go, for practice, and for wonderful, sometimes the best kind of wonderful, and for awful, sometimes the worst kind of awful. Some of the awful happened this week, at an AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were murdered at their church on a Wednesday night, gathering just as we have in churches around the country on Wednesday nights for as long as I can remember. I am absolutely sick about it. I am angry and sad and outraged. The people who were murdered there were practicing, just like we do. The pundits have already started shouting from their platforms. In a world where my babies have to know what a lockdown drill is at school, and where churches are targets, and where people are hated for their skin color, I feel all the horrible feelings. And then I read the comments and hear the lines that justify the guns and excuse away the killings and I get sick all over again. I lose respect for people I love because they seem to love guns more than they love people, and I’m called to forgive and love them. And it hurts and it sucks and I hate it. Jesus called us to forgive, but he wasn’t silent when people were being awful to each other, either. School shootings should not happen. Gun violence needs to stop.
I need a place to go with all of that. As much as I love books, the library is cold comfort when the awful-est of awfuls happens. My alma mater has a special place in my heart, but no matter how many times I sing Varsity, it’s pretty hollow compared to the Doxology. Even the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t going to get me through unbelief like the confession or the creed … even when the words of the people around me sustain me more than my belief in the words themselves. Walking with people from the parking lot to a ball game, while exhilarating even for a non-sports fan, is nothing compared to walking to the Communion rail. Cooking a meal in my home is one of my very greatest pleasures, and sacred agape love is shared at our table, but the meal that we share with the worldwide communion of Christians is bigger than anything I can find in any of my cookbooks.
People of faith in Charleston walked into a church today, and they came together to practice. Their words are my prayer tonight.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Carrie Willard is a piano teacher, recovering lawyer, and food and cooking enthusiast living in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young sons. She is the wife, daughter, sister and sister-in-law of Episcopal priests. This article is abridged from a post published in June 2015 on her blog, The Contessa-Curessa Project, at curessa.wordpress.com.