to church or not to church

| March 17, 2018

Every time I sit in a church service, I feel the occasional wave of uneasiness. What is it I’m doing here? Do I wish I were doing it more?

Church and I have a complicated relationship. When I was young, I was the queen of church (or at least an up-and-coming princess). I showed up to everything: Sunday School, choir rehearsal, normal services, and special services. I mentored middle school girls. I directed the children’s performing arts group, writing musicals and coordinating elaborate projects. I helped start an early morning praise service, singing with the band and writing songs.

And then it all stopped being fun. One Sunday morning as we got ready for the praise service, I laughed with a friend about something and the piano player turned to me in surprise. “It’s really nice to hear you laugh,” he said.

From his tone, you’d think I never laughed. I felt affronted in the moment, but his words stuck on me like chewing gum to a shoe. Did I not laugh when I was at church?

I’d taken on too much. I was in the middle of my first year of full-time music teaching, and spending hours working on church performances in addition to the performances at school had me exhausted and cranky. I was playing the role of the church superhero, but the costume didn’t fit any longer.

It was a relief when my first husband and I moved to Massachusetts, where no one knew the kind of passion and time we had put into our old church. We checked out a bunch of churches. We got a little lazy about showing up every week.

And then my husband announced that he was done with church – and God – altogether. I wasn’t done with God, but church was a more confusing question. I attended a Quaker meeting. Then I stopped.

Church no longer felt right. Yoga felt right. The spiritual community at the amazing Stoneridge Children’s Montessori School felt right. Walking on the beach and memorizing Mary Oliver poetry felt right.

Still, a voice inside of me said, It doesn’t matter if church feels right. It’s what a real Christian does. You’re not in the club unless you attend the meetings.

During our year in Kansas, church felt right again. I was a stranger to Wichita, and church was a place where I could quickly shed that identity. I got to know new people. I felt part of a community.

We moved back, my friends surrounded me again, and the need for church disappeared. But my connection to Christianity is more important to me now than ever. I no longer see myself as the happy rebel who stays away from church simply because she’s not feeling it. Perhaps there are other questions at stake besides my feelings.

Now it’s Lent, and I’m attending church. And it feels mostly good. It feels important, yet somehow it also feels unnecessary. It feels like it’ll take more than one blog entry to explore.

Bottom line, the question of church attendance feels like a pull between two beautiful versions of my life. What life do I choose to live?

Category: beauty, journey, the seasons

About the Author ()

Hannah Lynn Mell grew up a missionary kid in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Now she lives in Rowley, Massachusetts with her exquisitely kind husband David, their plucky three-legged cat Thomas, and a needy-yet-lovable dachshund named Birdie. She's worked with singers since 1998 and loves to help people of all ages free their voices.

Comments (8)

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  1. Susan Gore says:

    I am right with you. (Not surprising, considering all we’ve shared).
    I’m exploring too. I have two selves that are not equal, not opposing.
    And that’s what I know right now. And that’s okay for now.
    Thank you for freely expressing … haha…”our” thoughts.
    A journey❤️

  2. Catherine says:

    Hannah, thank you for sharing this. You know I’ve had a lot of similar feelings and pressures (from outside and from within). One thing I do know: it will be a lot better exploring this phase with you and reading about your journey.

    • Thanks, dear Catherine. Sharing makes a huge difference, doesn’t it? Reading your blog gives me the same sense of sisterhood. So grateful for you. Thanks for reading.

  3. Gina says:

    I loved reading this Hannah. I totally get where your coming from with church. I like my faith, I’m just not sure about church anymore, I go for my kids, but my heart left long ago. Yet is seems like in American culture the 2 always go together. I’m still figuring this all out, but like hearing others thoughts.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Gina! I think that more and more, church and faith are NOT going together…a lot of those with great faith are no where near churches! So faith is taking new forms, which is cool. Still, community is important, right? It’s a question of where to find faith community where our hearts really are. Not always the simplest task! I pray grace for your journey, wherever it may lead you and your family. Sending love your way!

  4. Mama says:

    WoW I can’t believe I never addressed this entry!

    Why do I go to church? I go to be with other Believers. Church is not a particular place; it is where 2 or more gather in the Name of Jesus with the express purpose of Worship/Adoration/Listening
    What is a Believer? We believe that the historic Jesus is the Christ of God, Messiah to the Jews/Saviour to all humankind.
    I believe that I was created by MAGNIFICENT GOD; created to Worship the I AM. I want to cooperate with the purposes Jesus spoke of regarding the Kingdom of God….which is here now among us……
    I believe in the trinitarian God; knowing and cooperating with the Holy Spirit who is working in me to submit and join in His good pleasure has been my heart’s desire since I let Him start in the spring of 1972.
    The Good News is that I am deeply and immeasurably Loved and I want very much to Love Him/Her right back!

    • Hannah Lynn Mell says:

      Mom, thank you for this. I absolutely agree that church is not a particular place. The question for me is where do I invest time…in what sacred communities? I want to cooperate with the Kingdom of God, too, and I know for sure that it is among us. Among ALL of us in so many different ways. I resonate with this reality immeasurable love being at the heart of the universe!