[Insert well meaning person here]: “So, where are you all going to church?”
[Me, stammering]: “Well, we haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
As a fairly new school chaplain, I often do not miss waking up at the crack of dawn to preside over the three ring circus that can be Sunday morning congregational life. The chance to worship with my family was one of the big perks of being a school chaplain. I was all set to rejoin the rank and file, to hear sermons instead of give them, to just simply blend in.
However, now that I’m free to go almost anywhere on Sunday morning, I can’t quite figure out where to go. My family and I have visited four or five different Episcopal churches in the five months that we’ve been here but have yet to choose a community to call home. We find ourselves in the similar position as any other family with young children does when looking for a church to call home with one big difference — the mom’s an Episcopal priest.
I can see myself serving almost all of the parishes that my family has visited. In their own way, they are living out in mission of the church well. Riding the pew, however, feels like a different story, even if it’s not, even if it shouldn’t be.
Lots of stories about pastors’ kids are (understandably) about being too closely watched and under pressure to be perfect. However, I’ve started to wonder what the benefits of being a PK might be. I see now that I was blind to how much slack my former parish cut my family. People turned and smiled when my daughter cooed during the normally very quiet 8 a.m. service while I preached; now, sitting in unfamiliar pews, I see people grimacing and silently stewing when she makes noise. As parish clergy, I used to take the baby to church wearing something seasonally appropriate but not at all dressy. During the sweltering, famously humid eastern North Carolina summer, she often went in just a onesie (a T-shirt that snaps at the bottom). No one seemed to care how she was dressed, because everyone all knew she was the associate rector’s daughter. Now, I feel more pressure to put a dress on her (and don’t get me started on how self-conscious I feel that I’m not nearly as well-dressed as most of my fellow pew-sitters).
If you’re already cringing out about how temporal these matters are, about me bemoaning the loss of my parish position of privilege, then I’d suggest you skip this paragraph. Several years ago, I remember scoffing that convenient parking is reportedly a consideration when people are choosing where to worship. Shouldn’t the theology or the worship be more important something as mundane as parking? Then a few months ago, when I found myself walking in (yes, in—there was no sidewalk) a busy road while carrying my then eight month old and a diaper bag, I understood where people were coming from. To further complicate matters, Sunday morning services fall right in the middle of my daughter’s morning nap time. Since she doesn’t nap that well during the week, I’d prefer to let her sleep on the weekends when she can.
There is one parish to which my husband and I both felt connected. The rector is our former campus minister from college. This parish is also half an hour away. We would literally pass by dozens of other worshipping communities to attend this one. We wonder if we could—or perhaps would?—actually be involved somewhere comparatively far away.
I would have thought I would have been thankful to have a choice on where to attend on Sunday morning. Right now, I’m not. Having a choice has not been helpful. Instead, the plethora of choices on Sunday mornings has been somewhat paralyzing. I’d get even more lost if I looked beyond the Episcopal Church, which we haven’t.
Given these many things, there have been more than a few Sunday mornings that we find ourselves not going anywhere at all. I take care of the baby in the comfort of my own home, where I don’t have to worry about finding an empty Sunday school room to nurse her during the offertory. My husband does his homework. The baby sleeps in her crib instead of the carseat.
Though the baby complicates matters, she’s also one of the main reasons I refuse to give up. She’s been baptized. We promised to bring her up in the faith. I want that for her, so we’ll make a choice; we’ll pick a lane. I don’t quite know how, or which one, but I know that, somehow, by the grace of God, we will.