A Halfway House for Post-traumatic Church Disorder Survivors

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Photo credit: Steve Osmond

I haven’t had a “home church” for about 15 years. I’ve sporadically visited several different churches during that time. So far, I’ve been to:

  • Normal Mennonite churches
  • A hippie Mennonite church
  • Non-denominational evangelical churches
  • A Non-denominational evangelical coffee house church
  • Lutheran churches
  • A Catholic church

I’m not even going to lie. Every one of those visits was painful. I think I have post-traumatic church disorder or something because walking into a church building seriously freaks me out.

How I Visit a New Church

  1. Do some online church stalking. Do they have a Facebook page? An online newsletter? Pictures of the congregation? Does the word “inerrant” show up in the Statement of Belief?

  2. Choose a church and decide to visit the following Sunday.

  3. Wake up to the alarm clock beeping. Have anxiety attack. Turn off alarm clock and go back to sleep.

  4. Try again the next Sunday. Make it into the shower before the anxiety attack starts. Decide to try again next week.

  5. Drive by the church building during the week to “scope it out” even though this gives me absolutely zero information.

  6. Drive up to the church on Sunday morning. See cars in the parking lot and people walking into the building. Panic. Pull a U-turn in the parking lot and head home.

  7. Make it into the church. Hide out in the back and hope I don’t accidentally say “lead us into temptation” while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Go through the bulletin and pick it apart looking for clues that will tell me what this church is really like. Panic during the passing of the peace and salute the pastor.

  8. Awkwardly hover beside the door on my way out because I’m not sure if I really do want to talk to any of the members or not. After a few minutes of this, mentally shrug and go home.

To complicate things a little more, I’m not quite sure where I’m going to land on some theological issues. I want to connect with other Christians, but I don’t want to have to “fake it” in order to be accepted into a church. I don’t want to expose myself to the level of judgement that I know exists in many churches when I don’t even know if I’ll be sticking around with them.

I’ve gotten some flack for not attending church, but where do you go when church isn’t a safe place?

Halfway House for Wilderness Wanderers

A couple of years ago, someone added me to a Bible Discussion Facebook group… which was pretty weird. I wasn’t exactly a big fan of Christians at the time. Sure, I wanted to talk about religion with other people, but I didn’t think I belonged in a group with good church going folk. My first post to that group was along the lines of, “Are y’all sure you want me in here?” (Some of them regretted saying “yes” soon after that.)

Some of the people in that group were the kind of Christians I was used to. But, a few of them weren’t what I was used to. A few of them didn’t get offended when I got a little (or a lot) irate. A few of them didn’t pat me on the head and tell me to just “have more faith”. (And I only got called a Jezebel once, which is pretty dang good for me.)

I had a pretty rotten view of Christians because I’ve had some pretty rotten experiences with Christians. They were not safe people. They were people who could (and usually would) do a lot of damage. Connecting with Christians through social media has allowed me to dip my toe back in without much risk. I mean, what do I care if FundieLvr777 tells me, “Get thee behind me, satan”?

I think of these online communities as a kind of religious halfway house. They’ve allowed me to slowly reintegrate without jumping into the deep end of the pool (and risk drowning). It’s done a lot to soften my attitude and chip away at some of my anxiety. I’ve gotten to know some wonderful people (seriously, some of them could run circles around me, but they won’t admit it because they also have way more humility than I do). I’ve even connected with people who have stories similar to mine.

I’ve spent the last two years annoying Christians through Facebook and reddit. It’s not church, but it’s something. It’s not worship, but it’s a step toward worship. It’s not a physical community, but it is a form of community. (There are real, live people behind those computers after all.) I may not be singing in the Sunday morning choir (you and your ears should be thankful for that), but at least I’m connected in some way to the greater body of believers out there. For right now, I’m out here in the wilderness on my own, but I’m not out here all alone.

6 Comments

  1. Anam Cara January 29, 2016 at 8:49 am

    I just found your blog. It is a year since you posted and I have no idea what you have done about finding a church to attend. Might I humbly suggest that since you have considered Lutheran and Catholic you also look at an Eastern Orthodox Church? (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian – it’s all the same, just the way they chant is different. The beliefs and liturgy are all the same. That only refers to the ethnicity of the founders – it’s like saying a church is a Spanish Catholic Church or and Irish Catholic Church or an Italian Catholic Church.)

    We believe that sin has wounded the image of God in us. We all need healing. The church is the spiritual hospital, Jesus is the Great Physician, the medicine is grace.

    One of our most precious prayers is the prayer of St. Ephrem:

    O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

    Yea, O Lord and King, GRANT ME TO SEE MY OWN TRANSGRESSIONS, AND NOT TO JUDGE MY BROTHER, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

    It will seem very odd at first. But just stand and listen to the prayers. You will learn everything that the church believes just by listening to the services, the prayers, the hymns. Beyond that there are “safe” ways to learn more. Ancient Faith Radio has hundreds of podcasts you can listen to in privacy. There are weekly shows where you can ask questions.

    You just may discover that this is the home you always longed for.

    Reply
    1. Kristy January 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I love that prayer.

      I’m still a wandering church orphan for now. I have thought about Eastern Orthodox a bit. There are some things that really do appeal to me there. Unfortunately, I live in a rural area so there aren’t many church options near me. I believe the nearest Orthodox church is a couple of hours away. I do hope to visit a service, though. I’ll have to check out those podcasts.

      Reply
      1. Anam Cara February 6, 2016 at 6:10 am

        I wish you well in your journey!

        Reply
  2. Kara January 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I’m an MK and I’ve struggled with trying to stay in a church in this country ever since I moved back here for college over 15 years ago. MKs seem to be seen as either “good” or “bad” and I seemed to be seen as a “bad” one before I ever did anything to earn it. Now, I’m also someone who had leave a marriage because it was abusive so once I have the money and get it done, I’ll have divorced added on top of that.

    Reply
  3. jessicanettles January 10, 2015 at 8:08 am

    I get this completely. I was committed to church for most of my life, and was even a minister’s wife for a bit. About five years ago, I got up one Sunday morning and just couldn’t go. I made attempts to go back, but it was an exercise in anxiety and frustration. I felt like I was entering a house of vampires. “We need you in the choir,” “When are you coming back, we need your help with…” It was like dying over and over again.

    Now I attend Sunday school in Buckhead. I go to services on occasion, but not consistently. I just can’t make myself. I like the church I am in simply because there is no expectations put on me and the people in my Sunday school care about me—not what I can give them.

    I believe a half-way house for people like us could be useful. My “half-way” house is a group that meets once a month at a pub (my Baptist roots are screaming). We sit around a table, drink beer and cider, eat dinner, and discuss spiritual things (and all other things too—nothing is taboo). I feel safe with these people. They come from all places and all beliefs and they are more like family than many church groups I’ve been a part of.

    Reply
    1. Kristy January 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. That’s awesome you’ve found ways to still connect. I’m a PK and used to be very involved as well. On the rare occasion I do visit a church, I’m a little coy when people ask about my background. I don’t want them to get their hopes up that I’ll teach a Sunday School class or something.

      Reply

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