Featured: Pastor Chet and others at Good Shepherd Church in Hampden, Baltimore.
Growing up Presbyterian, every Sunday morning my mom and dad zipped me into a starchy 80’s dress (it *was* the 80s), snapped a big bow on my head, slid shiny black patent leather shoes on my feet and hurried our family of four into our wood-paneled Dodge minivan right at prime cartoon-watching time.
Once inside the cherry-red front doors of Webster Groves church, my parents told my older sister and me to be quiet and we got nudged if we goofed around too much.
We mumbled hymns impossible to sing in key and then those “songs” oozed into a lengthy prayer I didn’t understand. It was confusing and weird and it smelled musty. I liked the oddness of it. But I never understood where all the other kids were and why there were so many old people with purple hair.
My sister and I entertained ourselves as best we could and sometimes listened to the sermons and found the stories weird and interesting. But mostly we looked forward to leaving.
After being at church for hours (ok it seemed like hours), we finally got to go to brunch at Bristol's where they served the most delectable golden brown broccoli cheddar biscuits. Then we got the rest of the day to play outside with our friends which was, undeniably, both the purpose and meaning of life.
That was all in St. Louis in the late 80s, early 90s. When we moved to Baltimore in the mid 90’s, we “church shopped” for a while, as my parents put it.
After trying on a Baptist church, a Methodist church, an Episcopal and a Presbyterian one, we ended up seated in a huge auditorium listening to Christian rock in a non-denominational church. It was a comfy, carpeted, glorified warehouse with a pastor who started each service with a funny story and a band that played guitar riffs to contemporary Christian songs.
My mom hated the music. She made a self-righteous ritual of coming in 20 minutes late to each service just to miss the singing.
My mom adores music and has an ear for it so she can’t stand it when it’s mediocre. I love this about her. So we sauntered in late to church with my dad at the door as usher. He’s been standing at the door on Sunday morning between 9 and noon for over 25 years. Each week he shuffled us quietly into the mix of worshippers like we were VIP.
I went to Grace church for a long time, through middle and high school, and got into youth groups, etc. I even went to “Jesus Camp” and my friend Brooke gave me this foreboding advice: “please don’t change.” I knew what she meant. And I didn’t. Because church and church-like events never felt great to me, never felt like home. What I liked about Christianity was people helping each other. The church even paid for me to travel to Louisiana to help rebuild homes after hurricane Katrina. It was beautiful.
But church didn't seem to have much to do with God. It looked like kindness and empathy. It looked like love. And I looked forward to a place where kindness was the currency. I wondered why it seemed exclusive to Sundays.