My family always sat on the right side of our Church.
We were usually a third of the way back from the altar in front of the lectern from which my dad was often a reader. A few pews ahead were always Peg and her husband Paul — a man who was visually impaired, but whose voice I loved to hear echoing off the stained glass windows with a force that made me wonder if he could actually see Jesus standing in front of him.
We rarely missed a Sunday.
Some masses my head was in the clouds and I ran my hand down the edge of the curvy pew over and over while thinking about kickball games and popsicles. Other times, my sister and I spent the majority of the time whisper-fighting while my mom motioned to us to get our eyes back in the hymnal. And on some Sundays, I could feel every lyric from every hymn and every line from every Gospel run straight through my eight-year-old veins as I connected my spirit with Jesus.
I loved communion time and it was rare to not recognize a face that walked down the aisle. I’d get nudges from my Catholic school classmates, waves from my parents’ friends and smiles from some of my teachers as they passed by my aisle seat.
When mass ended it was always another fifteen minutes of gathering. Sweet little old ladies would come up and ask my Mom – the Church’s secretary – questions about happenings on the parish calendar. My Dad would talk to his friends about the NFL games later that day. I would chat with my best friend about what was going on in school in the upcoming week.
In our small town, that Church was and IS – for many of us – our second home… where community lives and support is given and received.
And when I left for college, that Church was the place I got re-centered when I came back to visit. That Church was where they wheeled my Grandfather’s flag-draped casket over which I delivered a eulogy. That Church was where I’d exchange vows with my soulmate. That Church was why I traveled across state lines so two of my babies could be baptized there.
That Church is where I bring my kids when we are home to visit Nana and Papa and where I watch my son sled-ride his hand down the end of that pew with his head in the clouds the way I used to.
These memories have been marinating in my brain since I got the text from my mom this week that it’s possible our gorgeous building will be demolished in less than a year due to financial issues. My heart has been breaking like the hundreds of hosts I’ve watched different pastors break on that altar over the last 30+ years.
I’ve been trying to convince myself of the same thing I did when we moved our family to a new home last year.
“It’s not about the structure. It’s about the memories and the foundation created within it – and we get to take that with us.”
But it’s not the same here. And I think I know why.
When my family moved out of our first home where we built the foundation of our family, that foundation came with us. While we had outgrown our home, our foundation was stronger than ever and I knew we could take the most important things with us.
My foundation of my faith, though, hasn’t felt as solid under my feet.
My faith has become more challenging than when I was that eight-year-old Catholic school kid who spent most of my time giving prayers of thanks for the family and friends He’d given me.
Since then, life has given me a few more experiences that have altered my conversations with God.
I’ve wondered why my faith doesn’t accept some people because of who they choose to love. I’ve questioned why someone who left a marriage that was not healthy would have to pay the Church a fee to ultimately “pretend” the marriage never happened. I’ve questioned why our prayers aren’t enough to keep mass tragedies from happening or why God would want to take so many of my young friends. I’ve questioned why not eating meat on a Friday in lent is even a thing… and, ultimately, how many other laws of the Church are founded on times that are so much different than the ones we live in now. I’ve questioned why a diocese would remove a priest from a parish who built a foundation of trust in a community who often feels left behind.
My hometown Church… is a symbol of when my faith was easy. When the complications of life were fewer and my experiences were less overwhelming.
I think I’m afraid that if it disappears, then will I lose that foundation of my relationship with God… and maybe that’s why I don’t want to see it go.
But while I have questioned many things, one thing I’ve never questioned is my love for God and His love for me.
He has helped me through too many deaths of my young friends. He has put peace on my heart in my most chaotic moments. He has given me gifts that have blessed me. He has put people in my path that have changed me. He has given my friends and family peace in their hardest times. He has sat with me when I was otherwise alone on a bathroom floor wondering if I’d survive motherhood.
But I’ve allowed the noise of our modern times to come between even the simplicity of my relationship with Him.
I’ve forgotten to pray. I’ve forgotten to look for Him in my struggles. I’ve given up on fighting to continue to find my faith in who I am today. I’ve turned to others for validation instead of turning to Him for grace. I’ve looked to social media for community instead of turning to the grab the hand of the person beside me.
He’s here all the time. Not just on Sundays when we walk through those Church doors.
And maybe we need to find him in this heartbreaking moment and in our fear of what’s to come so we can pause and reflect.
Maybe he WANTS us to see that we have more of a connection to showing up to a building than we do to showing up in our faith in our homes, and in our daily interactions with each other.
Maybe it’s His way of reminding us that we have to rebuild our faith in these modern times. We have to reevaluate who we are and how we reach people and why we exclude people and how we have practiced our faith and what is truly important.
Maybe he wants our foundation to be rocked… so we can build a stronger one.
Because while that building is in jeopardy, my soul is too… if I don’t start figuring out a way to bring faith more into my daily life.
To build community outside of our Facebook groups.
To turn to God to support me through the modern-day pressures put on marriage, family, career and life.
To lead with love in all that I do.
To start learning to build a better personal relationship with God in all of our hearts, and not one that simply results in sled-riding our hand down the curve at the end of the pew at Church… with our head in the clouds.
Thank you, this article was something I needed to see. Ever since my wife passed my faith has been in a downward spiral. You are truly an inspiration to so so many.
I like what you have written, It makes a lot of sense. I have 4 adult children (or at least they are ages of adults.lol) They too feel like you do. Brea, the church has been here for you so far your entire life, you have counted on her. Now when the church needs you, and needs you bad, I hope you don’t decide to give up on her. The church is going through an evolution, it needs you and it needs you to be a strong advocate. You don’t quit going to little league games because there is a bad coach who violated some youth, you dont quit sending your kids to school because there was a teacher that had relations with a minor, so why in the heck would you give up on the one thing that has been a pillar of your life? It’s up to you and I and our strong belief in god to keep forging ahead and trying to take the broken pieces of the Catholic Church and put themback together better with gaps of tolerance for people of same sex relationships to be able to fit in and morph into what god really wants us to be. Brea, please pray for the good priests that are left, they have all been painted with a broad brush that makes them look ugly to all. It’s not fair and they need your prayers and support. I’ll pray for you to have faith and keep the faith. Cheers. Mike
AMAZING read … period. I want you to know that by simply placing these words out there for your social media community you give LIGHT to some people’s darkness. GOD is POWERFUL! You are STRONG and JESUS will show our town the way. Praying for understanding.
Thank you for this, Brea! I think your message will resonate with so many, as it has for me. My faith has been rocked over the years and, like you said, I have to remind myself faith is about my connection with god. For me, I have to remind myself it’s not about specific beliefs of the church, or even about the structure under which I practice my faith. Rather, it’s about the people I surround myself with and the connection I have with myself.