I never missed church until recently. Let me be clear that I've never missed Christianity. I went through a brief spell when I wondered if I could actually leave it behind but other than that there's never been a moment of doubt for me. It's not that I think Christianity is a total evil. Like all religions, and most cultural expressions, it has been used in multiple ways. In many ways, Christianity helps some people just as it hurt others. As someone who studies religion academically, I've learned to not make fast and loose judgements about such things. But there was something I missed.
I didn't notice missing it until about two months into my fieldwork at an Hispanic Church of God. After the service, a food truck came loaded up with tamales, tacos, etc. Everyone would hurry out, buy their food, and stay around to chat. There was always a huge crowd, and one day after a rousing condemnation of those who take advantage of their community, I noticed a great warmth among all the people gathered to eat. These people cared about each other, took care of each other. There was more than just handshakes and hugs. People took care of each other's children, exchanged business cards, and offered heart felt advice. This group, whose beliefs I found utterly repugnant, had something I didn't have: community. I knew a lot of people who thought the way I did, shared my ideologies, etc but we didn't care about each other. We didn't have this sense of mutual obligation to help one another out.
After this, I began to feel the longing even more intensely. I noted how the people always greeted each other before the service began. How people would slip little gifts to each other. How someone in need was always taken care of. None of my liberal groups had even a hint of this kind of community connection. And I know there was a bit of idealization going on...nothing involving humans in groups is ever prefect. I am sure that there was tons of in-fighting, of struggles to be in the "inner circle" etc. But there was also this appearance of community that in many ways worked. Where as in the groups, I was part of there wasn't even an appearance. No one gave a shit about taking care of each other. It was all about what you were going to do for the cause, and who was going to get to have the last say.
And today, I went to church again. My mom asked us to go. Normally, I would have refused. But she has switched to a Methodist church, and I felt that I could handle the moderate message. Plus her husband was participating in the sermon, and she wanted us to come see him. "It will mean a lot to him if you're there." she said. So we got up early (for us), dressed everyone, drove about 45 minutes to see this church. And again I thought how nice it was that these people had a place to go and be with others like them. It's a much bigger church than the Church of God, three services throughout the morning, all filled. But there was again that sense of community. People talked to each other, smiles were exchanged. I know my mother and her husband have felt welcomed, and have even made friends. They've become involved in charity work as well as prayer groups. And again I felt this wash of longing, of wanting something like this, a community where people looked forward to seeing me every week.
I thought early on this year that I was informally creating this community. It didn't really work out the way I envisioned. Perhaps having that link of common faith, belief, goal, or something is necessary for that connection. Today as we drove away, I wondered if my longing for that community and connection is something that comes from my early years as a Christian. Did spending all those years in various churches create in me a desire to always have some kind of community? Perhaps. But the real thing I have to struggle with is whether that longing is necessary for my life. Is it enough to have H and the beasties with the occasional casual friend? I don't know. Right now I'm healing my wounds in the love of my family but I still wonder about the day when I'll want to open again.