Faith, organized religion and community


So, I am having what you could call a crisis of faith, I suppose.  A period of time when what I had previously found through my church no longer seems apparent, and I am facing a decision about what to do next.


Organized religion and I don’t have the easiest of histories.  As a child, my parents raised us as Roman Catholic, and although we did not attend weekly services on any consistent basis, we went for the high holy days.  I prayed and confessed and received communion as any good Catholic should do.  I felt a presence while in the church, presumably of God, and was always inspired by that even as a teen.  However, I never felt part of that church community; maybe due to the size, maybe due to the fact that we didn’t consistently attend, I am not sure.


Fast forward to 1980; I interview and am accepted to a Catholic college in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Although the biggest reason that I chose that college was for the campus, and the academics, the fact that there was a strong faith base there would come to impact me in major ways.  In my freshman year, I went to some of the services.  I sang in the folk group for a period of time.  And, for a few short weeks, I entertained the notion of becoming a nun.  But, the biggest impact that the college had on me in terms of faith, was in strengthening my own inner faith in ways that I chose to express.  So, even if I didn’t attend church weekly, I visited the chapel on a consistent basis, even in the middle of the night, when I needed to find safety and support, and the prayers that came were deep and meaningful.  I asked questions about life and death and faith, which helped to guide my path.


After college, I left organized religion for a very long time.  To me, church was not where I needed to be in order to feel close to God.  So, I prayed on my own, I found my solitude and reflection by streams and in the woods.  I had also come out as a lesbian, and knew that the church would not fully support me in that.  I stayed away for a long time.  However, my faith in a power greater than myself, and my gratitude and appreciation for the blessings in my life was constant.


Then, we had our family.  I met the love of my life, and we had a child.  And, after a few years went by, of both of us struggling with organized religion, we wanted to try to find a church where we could feel accepted as a family, and also, get some religious education for our daughter, so she could have an informed future to make her own religious decisions.  We found that church in our town.


That was five years ago.  We had her baptized in that church, and we officially joined it.  The pastor openly embraced us, and led us through the complex road of religion, faith and being part of a community.  We felt accepted by the church members and welcomed by many.  Then, that all seemed to change.  About a year ago, our pastor was moved, and we got a new pastor in our congregation. 


The tone shifted.  Although we as a family wanted to give this new pastor a chance, and try not to actively compare the two, the new pastor was drastically different.  Not as connected.  Keeping his attitudes and feelings close to the vest.  Frankly, we didn’t know where he stood on many issues.  At the same time, I came out publicly and openly in our church about my sexual orientation and our family, as a way to educate and grow our congregation.  Although many persons in our church were willing to dialogue and open up their minds, many others choose to ignore the words, and do not want to view the issue of homosexuality and the church in any different way.  And, our pastor won’t openly speak about it at all, whether he supports or has concerns about it.  The membership has dwindled.  The feeling of community, for us, is gone.  I am the education director, I teach Sunday school there, I coordinate Vacation Bible School, and yet, I feel hollow and empty.


For us, church has once again become about organized religion, and not about community.  So, the crossroads we find ourselves at is:  stay and advocate and educate, in the hopes that we can open minds, hearts and doors.  Or, save ourselves further heartache and disappointment, and find another church that is open and accepting, AND wants to and invites the dialogue.  To me, that shouldn’t be something that is on a wish list, but something that every church, temple and synagogue, everywhere, needs to talk about to truly do the work of God.


To truly be called the faithful.


13 thoughts on “Faith, organized religion and community

  1. Vanessa,

    Thank you for your honesty on this issue. I think there are tens of thousands of us who know exactly what you are talking about…

    My vote? I say you leave and find a place that’s ready to deal with the truth of who you are. Seems like your current church is frightened or not ready to deal…That’s not so bad, but certainly not as nurturing as another congregation might be for you and your family.


  2. Having been on the inside, I can only say churches move very slowly. Usually, it takes years for issues to be brought up and discussed (basically the older generation has to die off, kind of sad when you think about it). Then it can take years for the issue to be resolved.

    Persevere in the faith and hang in there. Not all is lost because there is no dialogue at this particular moment.

    1. It isn’t just the lack of dialogue, although that is part of it. It just feels so…… empty. I know that I am being forced to grow, so if that means moving elsewhere, maintaining our faith, and finding a better sense of community, then, so be it.

      Thanks, Craig for visiting….

  3. ah, so sorry you’re going through this, Vanessa. I hear your concerns. In a way, it’s less about your faith and more about the loss of community. Your history seems full of faith, and that will continue. but losing the community within that congregation is a real loss…..I know.

    1. That is the loss, community. Our previous pastor was so effective at creating it, at least for our family. We belonged, we connected. Now I feel very task oriented in what I do for the church, but not really accepted. That stinks!

      I know that you can identify, the pain is really difficult. We put so much at stake to go forth into church communities, taking risks. So much to learn!!!

  4. Hi Vanessa,

    I like what Keltic says above. Community is where we find it; it could be a mistake to put too much emphasis on looking to the anchient institutions of religious doctrine for a sense of community… community and salvation were the promise, long ago and perhaps all along, but the promises don’t always keep up with practices.

    As a staffer at the international headquarters for an order of nuns, I can tell you that I’ve heard rumblings below the surface of uncomfortable changes afoot within the Catholic hierarchy. The new pope has begun the process of instituting an inquisition (such as it is) into the practices of American nuns. The pope has dispatched one Mother Mary Clare Millea from Rome to begin investigating American sisters with a mind to how the Vatican might be able to reign in and exercise more control over the work the sisters do. The official line (according to a NY Times article from July 1, 2009) is that an investigation is being launched because the sisters fail to “promote the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the [only] means to salvation.”

    Rest assured, the long arm of the Vatican stretched across the Atlantic in search of wrists to slap and chains to yank has a lot of good ordained folk nervous and looking over their shoulder.

    Try not to take it personal. Hold to your faith. This too shall pass.


  5. Katie:

    Thanks! And, even though we have not visited a Catholic church in some time, I work for my Catholic alma mater to this day, and have sensed a new tension in the air in terms of discussion of gay and lesbian issues. We do have an ALLY support program for gay students and their supporters on campus, but I wonder what future it has there.

    My faith will never waiver; I fully believe in Jesus, his sacrifice for me, and his watching over us all of the time. I believe that I live my life to a higher purpose, one that he sees favor in. And, whether a church institution wants to sign off on our love and commitment being legitimate and soulful and affirming, that is their loss. However, even though it is an ancient ritual community, we came to make it personal, so the loss is very real.

    Thanks for your words, they are helping, and also the insight about what is going on in other churches.

    Change scares the crap out of people……

  6. Too many churches seem to have trouble dealing with what they don’t understand and will reject rather than investigate.
    I’ve stayed away from churches for a long time despite being a clergy wife; I’d rather find God elsewhere than be castigated for not following a party line or a dogma.
    Blessings on you and yours.oh and prayers too!

    1. A clergy wife staying away? does that work okay, I assume so! I have always kind of felt that way about religion, yet craved it again, mainly for the sake of our daughter, and also wanting to connect…..

      Yet, I don’t want to connect in a way that is not genuine, definitely not for us!!! Thanks for the blessings, my friend!!!!

  7. You’ve been writing about some weighty issues Vanessa…wow, organized religion vs. relationship, what is sin, friendships and why they are so tricky in terms of long term staying power, sexuality….I hear a hungry searching soul who is being sifted.

    Book I would heartily recommend..”Faith is not a feeling by Ney Bailey (I think that’s how to spell her name) I know you can get it on Amazon. @ one point, I went through a season of real “sifting”.questioned many foundational issues..remember it being very unsettling, like being in an earthquake…the ground under my feet was shaking, only spiritually. your blogging friend DM

  8. DM: Thank you for the book recommendation. Sifting; that is exactly what it feels like, at the same time that it feels like a tempest brewing……..I know that all will be well, and the mystery of it doesn’t even concern me; it is the deep feelings that go along with it…….and the fact that my mind just won’t slow down……

    Thank you so much for your friendship!!!!

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