For the purposes of this post, I define religion as the organized worship people participate in; faith is the belief in something larger than myself. Before you read further, please acknowledge that this is about the loss of the former, not the latter. I don’t write this as an opportunity to be preached at or have you attempt to bring me back to religion.
For some context: I was raised Catholic in a church unlike many Catholic churches (though I didn’t know it was different until I was well into high school). Everyone says their church is different, right? Nah, I’m serious. The Marys—two women, both named Mary, who have been a couple since I was a child—sat in the pew behind us each week. A high school student who was grappling with coming out looked toward our priest for guidance and support and found both. When news broke of the sexual abuse of children in the church, our priest openly talked about and condemned the behavior—a big “no no” worldwide. That same priest was dear family friend, spending more than one holiday around the table at my grandparents’ home.
Like many young adults, I started questioning my religion and faith in my late teens and early 20s. I stopped going to church when I went to college simply because sleep was greater than all other things on the weekends, though I’d still go when I was home. I’d never had (and still haven’t) that deep connection with a formal church space. When I moved to Texas the first time in 2012, I tried every Catholic church in Lubbock (I’m not kidding), and I couldn’t find a place where I felt like I fit. I still had faith in a higher power and something bigger than myself, but I couldn’t find a physical place or space where I felt right.
After living in the buckle of the Bible Belt (re: Lubbock) the first time, I moved back to Baltimore and didn’t look for a church at all. I would still go to Mass when I was home, but that was about it. A few times, I even attended daily Mass with my grandma, who had established a very close relationship with the church after my grandpa died, but I was just going through the motions. It became clear that the church and community I liked so much growing up was very different. Chalk it up to new leadership, changes in the church at a universal level, or my own heightened awareness; I don’t care what you call it, but things were different. I realized what I was seeing was Pay-to-Play Catholicism.
I remember putting what we had in the collection basket each week as kids, my parents sending checks to the church, donations whenever they were requested and we could afford it, but growing up, I just thought that was what made us good Catholics. I also remember when times were particularly tough for our church, they would put the dollar figure they needed to meet each week in the weekly. A bit tacky? yeah, but I didn’t give it much thought.
As an adult, I watched my grandma, who had lots of money wasn’t shy about it, put copious amounts of money into the church. When she was alive and well, church leadership was active in her life, but as she deteriorated and the money was strictly checks sent to the church, leadership’s presence in her dwindling life disappeared. And that was it for me: are we only worth our dollars?
Now listen here: I’m okay with pay-to-play when I’m in a casino…an arcade…shit, I might even pay for speed dating if this Tinder mess doesn’t work out soon, but I’ll be damned—probably eternally—if I’m going to pay to be called a believer. And before you get on me about how churches are funded, you can save your breath. I’ve worked for 501c3s in the past; I understand that money is waning and donations are often how they survive. But I’ll stick with donating my money to domestic violence prevention, Veterans, feeding the hungry—organizations that thank me for my money and leave it at that, instead of weighing my worth based on how much I give.
Short answer: I don’t know. I feel the most connected to any higher power or being bigger than myself when I stand at the edge of the ocean, but since I don’t think my calling is to become a mermaid, I guess I’ll play my religious future by ear. As of now, I hold onto my faith. I didn’t burst into flames when I walked into a church twice in two days at my grandma’s calling hours and funeral, so shoot, maybe I’m okay. I can’t predict the future, and this certainly isn’t an area where I’m going to try.
Til next time,