Monday, December 8, 2014

Some Reflections on a Church Journey

   As a young child, my attendance at church was often sporadic.  When I did go to church regularly, I went with my grandparents, who provided transportation. My mother approved of this and encouraged me to go to Sunday school. 
    As a teenager, I attended church more regularly with my grandparents who would pick me and my younger sister up and took us along with them to church. (I’m glad that they did.) The church that we attended was a medium to small Baptist Church in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Many of the members of this church knew my grandparents, and my parents. They represented the working and middle class African Americans of Atlantic City. 

  I cherished sitting with my grandmother in the church pews. My grandmother dressed elegantly, with a beautiful hat and high heeled shoes. She would sometimes quietly give us a piece of candy when we became restless, since church service was at least two hours. It was also expected that we were to dress lady-like when we went to church.  That meant neat hair and no pants for girls.

  My grandfather, who also dressed impeccably on Sunday, was a deacon, so he would sit in the front of the church with the other deacons (many of whom he had served with in the navy, decades earlier).  The deacons would sit in a cluster of hefty wooden chairs right below the pastor, who preached with traditional Baptist energy and style. They responded to the pastor's sermon by nodding their heads and saying "Well!"
   I listened to the choir, composed of mostly the older ladies of the church who seemed to pour their hearts into the songs they sang, regardless of the level of their singing talent. I liked many of the hymns, such as "This Little Light of Mine" and "Soon and Very Soon".  I even joined the youth choir which was small, along with a couple of other teenagers. I liked that experience, even though my singing was not the best either, and getting to church to practice for choir posed a challenge. I started to feel like I belonged to the church, even if my attendance was sporadic. That sense of belonging and warmth from other members of the church is something that I remember fondly.
   I knew the basics of being a Baptist Church member.  I liked church and wanted to be close to God. However, I knew much less about being a Catholic Christian. I knew about Catholic schools, where kids, whose parents could afford the tuition, would go. 
   That brings me to the present moment, three decades later.  My husband and I attend the Catholic Church, and we live in Silver Spring, Maryland.  I’m thinking about the confirmation process that our youngest child is going through. 
      Our two older children completed confirmation years ago.  This process culminates in the sacrament of Confirmation. It is organized by the Religious Education Department of the church, including the director and  Religious education teachers. The teachers are called Catechists and they teach the Catechesis, which is basic religious education. In the Catholic Church the Catechesis is a formalized curriculum.  It was good for our children to receive this detailed instruction.  I was happy that my children were on the path of spiritual growth and embracing their closeness with God.
   Now our youngest child, who is thirteen, is going through this process.  The confirmation process is detailed and didactic.  I adore The Bible, also known as Scriptures for Catholics.  I believe reading The Bible is critical and is the heart of Christian practice, as well as putting the core principles of The Bible into practice, as much as possible.  I also believe that the behavior of church members should encourage a feeling of acceptance and belonging, whenever possible. 

   I still seek that feeling that I attained, while attending church growing up, a feeling that I still long for after regular attendance and participation in church for more than two decades.  Maybe I am being too skeptical. I want to have generosity and compassion for all of humanity and not give in the urge to be pessimistic. 
   I have reminded myself that my commitment to church is a spiritual commitment to our Heavenly Father, the Creator of the Universe, and that I should not allow myself to be discouraged by what's going on in the world, and our human condition. Maybe that's it.  I go to church as a spiritual practice which prepares me as I immerse myself in the love of the Creator, our Heavenly Father.
   My sister still attends the Baptist Church, and I can see that she enjoys it.  It's a duty, but she also enjoys the actual experience.  Mostly, she says that she gains gratification spiritually and socially from her church.
   My husband and I have faithfully attended the Catholic Church for twenty-five years. (We've participated in various ministries, too.)  Yet,  I've often thought that the social experience leaves something to be desired, yet I'm not a social butterfly myself. 
   The core of my church journey is a desire to be closer to God, to continue to experience His love and compassion and to share it with humanity, and His creation as a whole.  When I focus on that purpose, God's love, I feel whole and happy. That's what I want for my children, husband, family, and all the world.

By  Angeline Bandon-Bibum 

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