I’m an atheist and have been for a long time now, but in my youth I spent a lot of time at church. My mother has been going to the same church for 45 of its 50 years, and is integral to its wellbeing and progress. She puts a lot of hard work into the church and is beloved by its congregation (when I went I was introduced as ‘that’s Kim’s son’, and that was followed be an awed whisper, as though I was the child of a celebrity). Over the weekend this church celebrated its 50th anniversary and although I feel uncomfortable going to church I went because I wanted to support my mother because she was leading the service and I knew it was a big deal to her. So I wanted to talk in this post a bit about what it was like going back after all these years and how I felt about being an atheist in amongst a sea of believers.
First of all it was nice to see so many people turn out because I know the church has been through a lot over the years but there were a lot of people, past and present, that came to celebrate. The Sheriff of Southampton even turned up as well, so I think that qualifies me as a member of high society.
It’s been a big part of my mum’s life, she even got married there, and I can’t imagine how many hours she’s put in, and I’m glad she got some appreciation and recognition. It was quite moving to see a slideshow of the history of the church, and many people had positive things to say about the role it played in their lives. It even made me nostalgic because I spent a lot of time there as a boy, and although I feel disconnected from my childhood it made me realize how much time I had spent there and what an impact it had on my life. It also made me feel a little…guilty isn’t the right word…but I know how much her faith means to my mother, and I hope that she’s not too hurt by the fact that neither I or my sister carried it on, even though she shared it with us from a young age. I’m more overt in my atheism and I know sometimes I can take flippant jabs at religion, but I hope that my mother doesn’t think I’m being too disrespectful.
Honestly though, I envied the Christians. They shared a connection and to have that community on hand is something that I admire about them, and I wish I had something like that in my own life because I find that I am getting increasingly lonely, and as they were caught in the throes of a raucous song that roused their passionate faith I almost wished that I still believed so I could be a part of it. It was a strange feeling to stand there and watch these people share their faith in Jesus. I felt like an intruder, especially when they started praying and said the Grace (made doubly awkward by the fact that they look around at each other, and I had to make eye contact with them while I remained silent). I enjoyed the songs, but I couldn’t sing them with as much passion as the rest, and while I in no way doubt my atheism I do miss the community aspect of the church, but if anything as they were praying to God it re-affirmed my atheistic belief.
One amusing thing happened though. I write erotica for a living, and while I don’t tell everyone I meet I don’t deny if they ask. The conversation usually goes like this –
“What are you doing now?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh really? What do you write?”
“I just work freelance so I do a lot of different things, but mostly erotica.”
And then people have different reactions. The best was yesterday. He’s a former pastor of the church and one of my parents’ friends, but when I told him he had that look of utter panic and dread, like he wasn’t sure what to think or say, and he ended up spilling some food he was trying to pick up.
Sometimes I like what I do just for the reactions I get from people.
But I’d like to know if anyone else has had a similar experience, or if anyone else has found that same community spirit in other areas of their lives?