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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Is This Denominational Grief?

In this post from a former blog, dated 3 June 2017, I reflect on how it feels to me to have changed religious fellowship at the halfway mark of my life. Now, 3 years later, the mild sense of loss remains.

Tripp Hudgins, whose background is in the American Baptist Church, and who now is with the Episcopal Church, blogged recently about ‘denominational grief.’ I got to thinking about what he wrote, and I think I can relate.

The night I told my mother that I wanted to leave the Roman Catholic Church and ‘be a Protestant,’ my father was finishing his shower in the bathroom across the hall. I was 17, and had no idea what my mother’s reaction would be when I went in to speak with her just before bed. It turns out that she took it quite well and was supportive. My non-religious father, on the other hand, wasn’t impressed. Overhearing our conversation as he shaved in the other room, he suddenly bellowed, “Don’t do this! You’ll end up regretting it!” Mom told him it was okay and asked him to let her take care of it. His words remained with me through the years, and never once to my recollection have I regretted leaving the Roman Catholic Church. At times I wonder, though, if I’ll ever find one place and stay there.

For roughly 20 years I was part of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. In various ways I’ve experienced life in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, a cappella Churches of Christ, and even the International Churches of Christ (post cult years). I came to see the history, institutions, and future of that movement as my own, and at times marvelled to myself about how a fellowship in which I was not raised could feel like home to me, moreso even than the Catholicism of my childhood and youth.

Then, it was over. Though I’d had a number of conflicts with people in the Stone-Campbell movement over the years, from an anti-American Brazilian evangelist in Brazil who tried to prevent my marriage to a member of hist church, to a deeply dysfunctional congregation in New Mexico that broke my spirit and led to the end my my full-time ministry, through it all I remained with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. What finally brought that chapter of my life to a close was the end of my faith.

It’s odd, really. In 2012 I made a trip to Brazil, after many years away, and attended the World Convention of the Stone-Campbell churches. I saw several people there I’d not seen in many years and assisted as an interpreter for several of the workshops. By the end of the next year I was no longer a believer.

It was a shock to me, at first. I had to process this new understanding of the world while resettling in Brazil and looking for gainful employment. I was entirely on my own there, with no one I could confide in about my newfound non-theism. Online I connected with people, but ‘out here’ in the real world I had to sort through it all myself. Somehow, I made it.

The trouble is that I’m not sure that I have a tribe now. I mean, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and a Humanist, and that definitely describes my present worldview. At the same time I don’t feel as much a part of either of those as I did the Churches of Christ, or even Catholicism. It could be that I need time and to attend more conventions. I’m certainly volunteering with the local Unitarian Universalist congregation I joined last year. It is slow going, though.

While I don’t miss Roman Catholicism, I am at times wistful and nostalgic for the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. Still, there is no going back. I can’t unknow what I’ve learned, and I don’t regret the personal progress I’ve made in recent years. Perhaps this is my own denominational grief.