I have always been a Catholic.
Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, Catholic college. Catholic volunteer program after college. Catholic school teacher.
I loved making all my sacraments. I loved the "smells and bells" of Mass. I loved learning about the saints, attending Communion services at lunch, performing service in the name of Jesus.
Without a doubt, my husband and I were going to raise our kids Catholic, and pass along all of the traditions that entailed.
And while there were certainly things I didn't agree with regarding Catholic doctrine (especially as I got older and my views started leaning left), my Jesuit teachers, colleagues, and friends helped me overlook this. They taught me that it was okay to question and challenge things while remaining "a good Catholic."
But then we left our Jesuit bubble in NYC. And while I tried to find connection and meaning during Mass in our new parish, it just never clicked. I found myself sitting in Mass, completely disengaged. I chalked it up to trying to wrangle my toddlers into submission during the service, but there was something else. An anger, a longing brewing inside of me. I began to wonder about a lot...and didn't feel there was a place and space to voice that wonder. What if my son comes out to me one day? What if my daughter wants to pursue a leadership role in the Church? Why does the pro-life argument never seem to encompass capital punishment, addiction, homelessness? Why am I looking for excuses to not attend Mass?
The breaking point came in 2011. A grand jury report came out against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, listing over 30 priests guilty of "inappropriate conduct." Within a few months, a number of schools were closed without warning. Looking at my two children over breakfast one morning, I broke down sobbing. How could I raise my children in a church that seemed so anti-children?
After a long talk with my husband, we decided to try something else. We were looking for a church that would fit all of us as a family. And that didn't seem to include the Catholic church.
So we started attending an Episcopal church in our neighborhood. What a difference! Our daughter went off to the nursery; our son attended their amazing Sunday school run by a former kindergarten teacher. The pastor and parishioners were warm and welcoming. We could actually listen to and participate in the service. During one of the first Sundays, I was feeling a bit guilty, but it dawned on me that God was still with me...it was just a different house. And yet...
...there was still a pull, a question mark. So at the end of year one, we sent our son to a Vacation Bible School at a Methodist church our neighbor attended. At her invitation, we decided to try it out.
There was still a nursery and a Sunday school; still warm, welcoming parishioners. And yet the service (which, truth be told, was a bit stodgy at the Episcopal church) was joyful and uplifting! I could actually feel myself relax and find peace each Sunday. The entire family looked forward to church (in fact, on the odd Sunday when we didn't attend, our kids would question us right away).
And in the meantime...this incredible Pope Francis (a Jesuit!) had to get himself elected and be all awesome. Pause. A Jesuit pope!? Who actually lives and teaches as Jesus did? Could this be the change we had been waiting for?
We started researching Catholic parishes in our area again. So the one in our neighborhood hadn't been a great fit...maybe there was another one? Possibly? Hopefully?
But then the decision was made for us.
At Back-to-School Night, we were looking at our son's "Writing Journal". His teacher had the students draw a big heart on the first page, and fill it up with ideas of things they love so they would always have inspiration to write.
Our son's heart included pictures of our dog, a T-Rex, a basketball, our family...and in the middle, a giant cross. On one side, he had written "God". On the other side: "My chrch".
All I could ever want from a church, any church, is for my children to find and explore their faith.
Who knows what the future will hold...but for now, we have found a spiritual home at Hope United Methodist. And I am eternally grateful.