Growing up I went to church because my parents went to church. I’ve never found this to be particularly objectionable, because the only reason young children are anywhere is because that’s where their parents are or want them to be. And I liked church just fine. Was it always fun and exciting? No. Sometimes it was boring and repetitive. But there were people I knew there and toys in the back and we always had cookies at Coffee Hour, so my needs were pretty much met.
My parents never had to force me to get involved at church (at least as I remember it). I assume this was because they were always so involved – I thought that’s just how church worked. I was an acolyte and helped Mom on our Coffee Hour team and once wrote and directed the Christmas Pageant with my friend Kathleen because we heard there wasn’t going to be one that year. As a side note, I played the angel Gabriel because I felt like it was the coolest part and thought Gabriel sounded like a girl’s name anyway. Plus it’s an angel so who cares, am I right?
Once my sister and I were old enough that we could be trusted home alone on Sunday mornings, we no longer had to go to church. It was our choice. My sister stayed home. I still went occasionally, but not every week. Until I met John.
John and his parents began coming to our church when I must have been around thirteen. He was the same age as me and I’m fairly certain he was the most beautiful boy ever created. I had a big crush on him that I revealed to no one. And I started to go to church every Sunday. I also started to dress up and wear makeup to church. John wasn’t there every week, so I had to be ready just in case.
Looking back, I doubt John and his family came to church more than a dozen times total, and I think they ended up becoming Lutherans. But by then church was my habit. My parents had started a youth group that I loved. I was more involved than I had ever been. One week the Coffee Hour Coordinator announced that she was stepping down and asked if anyone would volunteer to take responsibility for scheduling teams. After church I told her that if she couldn’t find anyone else, I’d be willing to do it. I went to the bathroom and when I came back out, my priest congratulated me on my new role (I quickly learned that this kind of thing always happens when teenagers express interest in things grown ups want them to do). And that was that. I had stuff to do, so I stuck around. Besides, I had started to really like the sermons.
The way I see it there are three times in a person’s journey to adulthood where they are most likely to walk away from the faith of their parents. One is in junior high – I stayed because of the boy. One is in high school – I stayed because I had been entrusted with responsibilities that mattered to me. The third is college, when I stayed because I was asked.
More on that tomorrow.