“Are you planning to ever come back to church?”

A friend of mine asked me this a couple weeks ago, when I dropped by her house to pick up some left over banana bread which I had made for the church’s coffee hour. It was rejected by the coffee crew because they didn’t want things with nuts in it. Drats. Anyway,  this friend and the current YA coordinator had signed the YA group up to provide the food for the coffee hour, so on Saturday some of us gathered to bake and chop and prepare food. My friend asked me if I was going to church, or if she should take the bread. I told her to take it, as I was not yet sure if I was going to attend services or not. I did not go. Will and I opted to take some time to research what sorts of things we may need for our child with those hours.

My absence made that Sunday similar to most Sundays of my pregnancy. I was actually surprised to receive a letter from the church inviting me to take part in their strategic planning process. “Huh, you all remember me?” I thought to myself. Of course. It has only been about four months. Memories are long. I called back, leaving a voicemail thanking them for the invitation, and telling them that I was thrilled to receive it. I declined the invitation because soon after starting, I would need to drop out of it to take care of a newborn child for several months. It occurred to me that that voicemail message could be the first that the church staff was hearing about my pregnancy, 22 weeks old at that point.

My Sunday truancy was a coping mechanism for fatigue. The only major symptom of pregnancy I had in my first trimester was that tiredness. I am ridiculously lucky to be spared morning sickness, but I should note that this was not mild drowsiness. It was an energy eating black hole. Everything fatigued me. Especially the commute to church.

Allow me to bore you for a minute describing the trials and tribulations getting to church. The Seattle bus schedule on Sundays is the sparsest of the week. My options tended to be show up 20-25 minutes early or 5-10 minutes late to church. Presuming I did not miss the bus, I would take one bus to about 25 blocks away from the church. There I could theoretically transfer to another bus, also running every thirty minutes. Unfortunately, it arrived generally about 22 minutes after I do. If I caught it, I’d arrive about five minutes later, but I would be at least ten minutes late. Or I could walk the 25 blocks, which would take around 15-20 minutes, and possibly be on time. I tend to chose this option. The walking route is typical Seattle: steep hills. This was nothing for the non-pregnant version of my body. It’s a bit more difficult as my steps have begun to resemble waddles and my balance is a bit off. I can now empathize with the elderly, or physically disabled. I had taken my youth and fitness for granted.

Did I mention my commute was sometimes an hour and a half to go home, including the wait time? It’s only marginally faster to take the bus rather than to walk on Sundays. The commute was sometimes longer than the services and post-service gatherings, especially for week-day groups.

Yes, there have been offers for rides here and there, and I am grateful to them. It’s not just that it is a ride, but it is often an opportunity to continue a conversation. With that said, the generosity of others is best not something to develop a sense of entitlement for or reliance upon. The timing is more of a fatigue issue. It’s not all bad. The Metro rides have also been opportunities to read, or think, or now with my fancy iPhone, write emails. I appreciate that it forces me to slow life down. At the same time, it is a lot of my day, and a lot of energy.

So, now you are sufficiently bored understanding my trip to church. If you need more boredom, may I recommend a video?

In my first trimester, I realized that my church attendance was likely to end after the baby is born. It might just be too far. It is a long time wear a baby for. Metro’s policies are fairly stroller-unfriendly. You have to collapse it and put it under a seat, unpacking and thus losing all of the utility of carrying things. Fortunately, it is a policy that is inconsistently enforced, but not so inconsistently that one could count on it. Most transit rider with kids wear their children. The other issue is that when I get to church… where would I even put the stroller? The bigger issue is that I would have a child to keep quiet, fed, and diaper reasonably clean for an hour and half each way, all of the time spent in public. Right. That’s going to happen.

In typing the initial draft, I realized that the church which is further away in the northern suburb is actually faster to get to by bus, according to Google Maps. Huh. I never considered that before. Should I try that instead? There is also a Methodist church only ten blocks from my apartment with beliefs and politics quite similar to the church I am at now, with more Jesus. I am actually OK with Jesus. I’m not sure he’s the savior, but he had a lot of really great ideas.

So I have options. My husband and I chose the church we are currently members of because it was the closest one to our old apartment. The one that was down the road closed three weeks prior to our move-in, and the other UU church within Seattle city limits was quite far away. The ones in the suburbs were *really* far from our old Capitol Hill apartment. When we went to our current church, we fell easily into a ready-made community of really wonderful people, many of whom became my closest friends, friends with whom that I have relationships outside of church.

The services provided thought and heart-provoking material that spoke to where our spirits and minds were at the time. Beyond that – I was UU from participating in the church in Amherst, NY. The faith makes sense to me. The open ways of thinking it has encouraged have become the ways I engage the world. I lost many of my prejudices of Christianity as a result of being UU, and my life has been richer for that. I am the beneficiary of many gifts from this religion, and for that I am grateful.

So while I have options, I do not feel moved to exercise them. I have devoted a great deal of energy and spirit to trying to contribute to this community. I feel attached to the place and people. Sometimes I go just hoping to run into some of my friends. Sometimes I go hoping for a dash of inspiration. Sometimes I go without hopes, and soak in the experience. I feel at home, and I am not willing to let go too easily.

To answer my friend’s question, I was at church this past Sunday. I will likely go this next Sunday too. We’ll see about my third trimester, and about my life in new-motherhood.

I think it would be wise for church leaders to consider that sometimes the factors which inspire one to go to attend Sunday services and participate in the community may have little to do with congregation. It may be as simple as the logistics of getting there, and the context of a person’s life.

5 thoughts on ““Are you planning to ever come back to church?”

  1. As a member of a fellowship currently struggling with whether and how we might provide transportation to our members, and what affect that has on the life of our congregation, I appreciate this post. (separately, it also bothers me a great deal that even in areas of the country I think of as being more progressive and family-friendly, the idea is, “it’s ok to have small children–as long as you require no “special” services or accommodations whatsoever.” I lived in Sweden for a short time during college, and everybody with a baby also has a stroller. Not an umbrella stroller. A giant, deluxe stroller–packed with the sorts of gear one might take on an excursion with a baby, if that person did not live in fear of having to remove all items from the stroller to board the bus. The buses had designated places, adjacent to the seating for persons with disabilities, labeled “place for stroller”–and there was enough room to park 3 or four on each bus.

    The attitude there is that children are the country’s most important resource and that raising them takes time, care, and societal investment. As a society, they are willing to share the burden a bit, rather than demanding that parents do whatever magic they must to avoid their needs or those of their children somehow affecting any other person. Just imagine what could be . . . or don’t. It’s depressing.)

    I also think it’s a good reminder that convenience is often what draws people initially, and community is what keeps them there . . . our UU theology is just not as unique as we think it is. I do hope you find your way to, or back to, a spiritual community that will hold you and your baby close–whether that means a bus ride or a carpool or a walk down the street. All the best!!

    • Yeah, it’s my suspicion that because parenting is considered a choice, which it is, it’s also considered the sole responsibility of the individuals making the choice to bring children in the world. Like the idea of choice is used as a justification to relieve our society of collective responsibilities towards its children. Which is really too bad, since many of the things that families need (good schools, safe parks, etc) are collective goods, requiring payment into the system by non-parents.

      In any case, thank you for the well wishes!

  2. Pingback: MLK, Roe v. Wade, theological unity, and more UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  3. I’m not sure where you are now, but the church in West Seattle (that I used to work for) is right on a bus line and it has lots and lots of young families and a quiet room if you have a noisy baby but want to hear the service. They also have a history of being pretty “happy baby noise” friendly. And the best music ever.

    My middle son is about 95% sure he’s going to SUNY ESF in Syracuse. Funny small world.

    Good luck!
    Kari from chalicespark

    • I am in Northwestern Seattle. I just looked up West Side on Google maps bus directions, and it looks like I wouldn’t even have to transfer buses – the 5 (which is the closest one to me) turns into the 21… the line that goes by your church. Hmmmm. It would take an hour ten minutes in good traffic, but huh. I just presumed you all were too far away. Another option! Thank you :)

      Congrats to your son for getting into ESF!!!! I am super super super stoked for your son, and wholeheartedly support a decision to go to SUNY ESF, should he decide that is what makes the most sense for him. It’s one of the best schools for environmental anything, and those I know who have graduated from there have done quite well. The campus is very pretty, and the view of Central New York is so nice.

      I am very biased about my fine native city. With that acknowledged, Syracuse has more arts and culture than its size would predict. The cost of living is cheap, and so he’ll be able to afford to do a lot on not a lot of money. Even going out to eat is cheap relative to here. Yeah, it’s snowy. But snow builds character… or that’s what we tell ourselves. ;) Seriously though. It’s a great place. My husband and I are thinking of moving back to raise our children there.

      Getting between Syracuse and Seattle can get expensive; I can offer suggestions based on things my husband and I have tried to reduce the costs, if either of you would like. In any case, congratulations to him. :D

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