It took me a long time to crawl out of the skeptic’s closet. Even then, however, I still attended church. Habit was a great motivator. But I also appreciated the thoughtful sermons of my church’s new pastor, and the sense that I was doing something spiritually beneficial with my Sabbaths. Three days ago, however, I decided to change course. I’m not just leaving the title of my denomination, I’m leaving church.
Last Saturday, after an interesting, but not particularly enlightening Sabbath school, I felt restless. I am used to the feeling of restlessness on Sabbaths. Frequently, when I was in high school, I would use the time between the youth class and high service to walk around the church grounds, sometimes biding my time until the sermon. I took this time to think, to clear my head, and to pray. Somehow, I always felt more connected to the divine in these moments than I ever felt warming my pew next to my parents. Last Saturday, however, the restlessness couldn’t be aided by a prayer walk.
After Sabbath school I walked through the eastern foyer of the church, and approached the door into the main sanctuary. I peeked in through the window, watched a couple people trickle into the all but empty pews, turned around, and walked out with only one thought in my mind: I can’t go back.
I wasn’t the only restless collegiate who didn’t find their way into the church service. I met four other students, all friends and acquaintances, who were also wondering around the church grounds. As we fell into conversation I explained my own feelings in terms of a metaphor:
I am like a battery. I store up energy and can even be recharged. But if I am left long enough without being placed inside a machine all my charge will go to waste–it will die inside me and I will be useless unless and until I am recharged.
Attending church charges my spiritual battery for a few days. It reminds me of the values I believe to be important, and gives a me a vague sense of potential–of energy intended to be applied to something bigger than myself. That energy, however, is rarely directed by my church community, and I often fail to find ways of using it. Over the course of the week the potential fades, but eventually church rolls around again and the process repeats itself; charging and sitting, charging and sitting, with only restlessness to evidence that the energy generated on Sabbath is meant to be directed, that the inhabitants of church aren’t supposed to expend their heat in pews, but focus it like a laser on the greater goals and aims of the community–whatever they are.
Of course, over the years, church has failed to produce the same level of energy it did when I was a kid. The church of my youth, with its membership larger than some rural villages, has only provided me with the scantest sense of community. I don’t believe in any of the peculiar doctrines of the denomination it is founded upon, I don’t relate very closely to the image of the world presente within its walls, and I do not find within it more than few pockets of culture which empower me to be a person of spiritual and intellectual integrity.
Still, Saturdays still leave me with a profound sense of purpose. I feel, somehow, that I am meant to take a day from my week to recharge, and then spend the rest of that week focusing my energy in a way that is not only useful to me, but to society. Last Saturday I realized that I could not be of any use to society sitting in a pew.