don’t give me that old time religion

Today’s controversy over a local Member of Parliament appearing in an anti bullying “It gets better” video.  The controversy is that this seemingly opportunistic gentleman appears in this video despite the fact that he has made public comments about homosexuality being a sin in the past and the organization he used to be president of produces and sells anti-homosexuality materials such as the book “Leaving Homosexuality.” This controversy has led me to revisit an old piece about organised religion, particularly my experiences with Christianity that I wrote a couple of years back.

Okay folks, I think the experiment has ended. Keep in mind that this does not change my overall values and beliefs, however it definitely changes how when and where I choose to express my beliefs.

Some of you may know that my maternal grandfather was an Anglican Minister and I was raised Anglican (Church of England/Protestant for my American friends). My parents were quite involved with our church, Parental Unit 1 taught the First Communion classes and Parental Unit 2 was a warden of the church. Both my brother and I were Altar Servers for years and I was in the youth group for a couple of years as well.

I can still recite the Nicean Creed and Apostle’s Creed by memory and know most of the Book of Common Prayer’s Eucharist service by heart.

I was baptised an Anglican and had my confirmation in grade 7 or 8. My exact memory of this time has been blurred for a very good reason that I don’t want to get into in a public forum. Let’s just say this is when the cracks in my faith in some of “God’s people” had begun.

When the minister of our church retired my Parental Units were on the selection committee and went to the churches of those who were shortlisted to take over. A young, charismatic minister was selected and he took over our church and changed everything. The regular Sunday service was taken from a nice time of worship and fellowship into a full-blown production worthy of a Catholic Cathedral complete with choir processionals and enough kneeling and standing to give everyone a good workout in the two to three hours the services took. Thankfully the early morning service at 8am was left intact and my family began attending that. My brother and I rarely minded helping set up for the 8am service and assisting with the communion each morning, it was a pleasure to do those items and participate in the service.

However the minister had plans, he shifted the hours of the later service earlier as it began to get longer and more involved, grumblings were made about putting a big addition on the church, despite the old church was beginning to get worn down. In fact the church hall was no longer up to code and we could not rent it out as it didn’t meet fire safety standards – thus cutting into the lucrative wedding and reception market. My dad soon quit as warden as he kept being stonewalled, he got his way as he directed our donations to the church to specifically fireproof the hall and perform maintenance on the rest of the building proper.

We were asked to donate money towards this new addition, which would add meeting rooms and modernized office space. The Parental Units refused to go along with this, saying that the money should be spent on renovations to the existing building and noted that the renovations took away from the original architectural designs – the church was built on a traditional crucifix layout. The final blow came when The Parental Units offered to donate 300 stacking office chairs which they were able to get from a local company that our neighbours worked for, who had a surplus, this donation was turned down because the seats and backrests were yellow.

Disillusioned, we stopped going to church. The addition went on and due to faulty engineering of the original church (due to the hubris of the founding family who had to have the tallest church), the walls began to crumble from the added weight. Emergency repairs were taken, however the damage was done, the church and the new addition was deemed unsafe for occupancy so the remaining congregation moved to a local industrial plaza. The building eventually partially came down, the rest was demolished and now the land is home to townhouses.

There is no longer an Anglican church in my home town, most of the old time Anglicans grew weary of worshipping in a mini mall and went to churches in neighbouring towns.

The minister responsible for this moved on and now carries the rank of Archbishop and is now the Senior Bishop of the Province of Ontario. Congratulations to him.

Around a year and a half ago a good friend of mine, whom I knew had gone to divinity college, contacted me wondering if I knew where a particular church was. Interestingly enough, it is literally around the corner from my house. He confirmed that he had recently been installed as the minister there and was wondering if I would be able to offer him a place to sleep while he searched for permanent housing so he didn’t have to commute to Toronto on some nights.

I was hesitant at first as he is a conservative Christian and, well, I’m openly gay and in a committed relationship. However I acquiesced and offered my guest room. He stayed several days over a period of months while he attended meetings, retreats and had special services to prepare for, until he found a suitable apartment for his wife. He also seemed accepting of my relationship.

I commented to him that I didn’t even know that the church was operational as it always seemed to be dark, and you couldn’t see into the building as the part that faced onto the street is a three story brick wall. The only way DH and I could tell the church was a working community was due to their annual Christmas bazaar.

He invited me to attend services, and I was hesitant at first noting my prior history and distaste for the politics of faith, however I began to attend services to support my friend and also see if and where organized religion fit into my life these days. I attended and found, despite the large size of the church, a rather small and aging congregation of folks that were deeply committed to their church, despite all that was going on around them. It was refreshing at first.

When I walked in I noted that I was, possibly, the youngest person in the church and a few folks tentatively welcomed me after I explained who I was. The reception warmed somewhat and I was invited to various events and coffee hours and my minister friend eventually asked me if I would join the church. I eventually received my box of offering envelopes and when their organist became too ill to work, I put them in contact with a wonderful organist and choir director who lived a block away.

However I never felt truly welcomed as I was not raised in the church. I would be invited to coffee hours, however no one would sit at the tables I sat at, beyond the organist and a few others. The minister requested that I join a committee to determine what they could do to increase their congregation. My opinions and ideas were politely received and little else, we did a good spring cleaning of the church and then this committee fizzled out.

Many of you know that DH had major surgery in late 2009 due to cancer. Some of you know that I nearly lost him due to complications from said surgery that December. I did not attend church during this time as I was spending my time between taking care of the house, trying to keep some order at work and visiting DH in the hospital in Toronto. I was burning the candle at both ends and the middle and was on the verge of exhaustion and emotional collapse during this time. When DH went into the hospital, I contacted the minister and informed him that the surgery was on…

At no time did my friend AND minister contact me to see if everything was okay with either DH or myself.

At no time did anyone from the church, including the elder who was supposed to be looking after my spiritual care, contact me to see why I had not attended in weeks.

I dropped by the church the week before Christmas to drop off the Christmas card I had for the minister and his wife and we chatted about things. Until I brought up DH’s surgery and the resulting health crises (“Oh by the way, DH nearly died and I had a complete and utter emotional breakdown two weeks ago…”), nothing was mentioned.

I attended church that Sunday and aside from snide comments from the lady who organized the door greeters (I missed out on two weeks at the door and didn’t call her because, well, my partner was DYING and I was shuttling back and forth to the hospital), not one person asked how I was doing. The Parental Units and I attended the Christmas Eve service, I handed my collection envelope to the minister and walked out.

Now almost three months later, I have not returned. I got a phone message last night, reminding me that even if I do not attend, I can still send my offering envelopes to the church.

PARDON ME?

Once again, it seems that the messenger has failed the message. Again this does not change my views and beliefs, and it does not change my views of some of the people who DO practice what they preach – there are at least four of my evangelical Christian friends who truly live the values they espouse. The chaplain at the hospital where DH was treated was a remarkable help for DH and myself. These are remarkable people and a true testament to their faith. I aim to live up to the examples they set. I just wish that other people who proclaim the same values in friendly surroundings on Sunday mornings would do the same.

I have enough stress and strife in my life, I don’t need any more.

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