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.