“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you,” a friend remarked recently as we chatted during an event for a non-profit where we’re both involved. “I know,” I said, “I’ve hardly been at church.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” she replied, eyeing me pointedly over her glasses with an expression that said she wanted to know why but would not press further if I did not voluntarily explain.
It’s the end of October, and this is an unprecedented absence in my life. I have never missed going to church on Sunday more than a couple weeks in a row and always before due to travel or special events. In the past I felt eager to return. Mostly now I feel relieved.
Why have I withdrawn from church-going?
I have not gone off in a huff over a particular issue. It’s been a gradual process of disengagement beginning with the new Missal just about three years ago. Despite the very pastoral approach to this change that was taken at our parish, the new language has alienated me from the liturgy, particularly from the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist through the communion rite. After the gifts are presented, I experience an unraveling of the prayerfulness and reflection fostered by the Liturgy of the Word. What had been warm and human becomes stilted and rote. And it’s not just the words themselves, but their meaning signifies a renewed emphasis on atonement theology that I cannot accept.
Over this same time period, my tolerance for the hierarchy has evaporated – their heavy-handed treatment of American nuns; ongoing revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups; and finally this past spring, the expanded morals clause in the Cincinnati Archdiocese teacher’s contract. Increasingly I feel myself complicit in their actions by participation in the church. Many people are heartened by the gestures and words of Pope Francis, but his “softer tone” is just not enough for me. I’m glad he cares about global poverty and models a simpler lifestyle, but he doesn’t understand or value women any more than his predecessors.
I’m not sure where this path is heading. I wonder how I’ll be impacted over time by the loss of community, a consideration that previously kept me in the pew each week. Last spring the idea of liberation took hold, no doubt the result of ongoing interactions with Judaism, where exodus from slavery is a defining narrative. Realizing that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt, I’m okay living with the present ambiguity for a while.