So You Want To Go Back To Church
When I decided to try and do the "Jesus thing" again I tried going back to evangelical churches. After all, these were the people who introduced me to Jesus. So I tried the newest hip church in town where the pastor wore jeans and everyone was ridiculously gorgeous.
After a particularly odd sermon in which the pastor informed us all that he and his wife pray before engaging in sex and another sermon in which an associate pastor preached on how people are not "born that way" but instead their hearts are wicked, I decided that this was not a good fit.
So I went to Mass occasionally and sporadically hung out with the Unitarians. Nothing really fit. Finally an acquaintance suggested I check out her childhood church, a small Episcopal church in the center of our town. She told me that the priest was a woman who was an engineer before joining the priesthood so I immediately was intrigued. In this church I found a community of individuals who walked with Jesus and were not afraid to question the status quo.
Two years later I was confirmed and a few weeks after my confirmation my husband and I were married there. For many people leaving the Evangelical Church, returning to the faith is not an option, but for those longing for that connection of faith and community practiced outside of the Evangelical Church, the process of finding a new home can seem incredibly overwhelming.
To be clear, this is not me saying that returning to the church is health for everyone. For some, healing is found inside the church. For others, that is not the case. Both are valid. There are a lot of things I would have done differently now, with the knowledge I have obtained.
So, if you find yourself looking for a church post evangelism, these steps are for you. Sit down and make a list of what is important to you in a church. If I had the foresight to write a list, mine would have included women welcome in clergy, LGBTQA+ affirming, and an emphasis on social justice. For you it might be responsible interpretation of scripture or a progressive children's program. Whatever it is, identify those priorities.
On the flip side, make a list of what you will not tolerate in a church. Trust yourself on this. Your trauma is valid and by listening to yourself, you are practicing self care and self understanding. For me, I knew I did not want a church that was biased towards one political party, believed in complementarianism, or engaged in "hellfire and damnation sermons".
I also knew that the mega church style of worship gave me panic attacks. Do not for a moment allow yourself to think that the boundaries you set make you weak. Protecting yourself is never weak.
Look up some local churches in your area. You can use resources like churchclarity.org or gaychurch.org to find LGBTQA+ affirming churches. CBE International also has a list of some egalitarian denominations. Be sure to read all statements of faith and check out any denomination they may be affiliated with.
I have even gone deep enough as to read the bylaws of churches while checking them out. Look for coded language. See what lines up with your list and what does not. Always check the church staff listing and see what positions women and people of color are in. Most churches also provide sermons on their websites, this can be another good way to feel out the church and what they stand for.
Finally, when you are ready to visit a new church for the first time, be kind to yourself. Your body and mind may react in ways you aren't prepared for, don't beat yourself up. Sit in the back of the church where you can leave quickly without being noticed if need be.
Most of all, remember that church attendance is not something you have to do to be *okay*. You may not be as ready as you thought, that's okay. You might fall in love with the first place you try out, that's okay too. It may take awhile and that is okay. Just give yourself grace and patience, the rest will follow.