Author: Caitlin Hornbeck, Guest Author
A few months ago, I found it getting harder for me to go to church on Sunday mornings. No, it wasn’t the early wake-up call for a 10 am service that made the thought of going to church unbearable some Sundays. As it turns out, I just hit a dead end. I, as some folks do in their journey of faith, had lost my enthusiasm for the Church. In light of discussions I had and discoveries I made about the history of the United Church, the rose-coloured glasses I looked at my faith through became dull.
I joined the United Church about 6 years ago- cognizant of my choice to follow organized religion after a childhood of no religion. The introduction to my faith community had very little to do with religion, in fact. I started attending my church because of the vibrant youth programming- and I guess I fell into the religion later on. From the get-go, I was absolutely ecstatic about where I worshipped. I prided myself on the fact that my church hung a rainbow flag above the doors outside. I gleamed at the knowledge that my church ordained people of all genders. I saw young families intermingling with older folks in the congregation. I was living in my own picture-perfect religious bubble… Until that bubble burst.
As a result of my late arrival to the Church, and religion as a whole, I was ignorant of the pain and suffering caused in the name of God. Of course, through my schoolwork, I was introduced to the idea of religion being used to persecute. I knew some of the history of colonization, and I knew it was bad. But learning from a textbook is vastly different than hearing stories from a real person. It wasn’t until 2014, during my time at a youth conference, when I learned of the United Church’s involvement in the Residential schooling system. In 2016, I also learned that the United Church, in the 1960’s, declared homosexuality a sin. But I held on. I accepted the facts as they were; that the United Church had made mistakes. I was contented for the time being knowing that the place I worshipped had apologized for its involvement in the residential schooling system and since declared that homosexuality was not a sin.
And then, in the winter of 2018, I was confronted again with feelings of anger and resentment towards the Church. I was taking part in an immersive program called the Kaleidoscope Project (applications are open for the next session. I would definitely recommend applying!) at the University of Calgary. The Project offered a unique perspective on 6 different religions - one of them being Christianity. During our learning about the Christian faith, discussions took place about the pain Christianity had caused for some folks. Hearing real people, my friends, tell their stories made everything more real. The pain and suffering went from being history to being reality.
This time, after being confronted head-on by the history of the Church, I became cynical. I started hating going to church, and I stopped attending for a period of time. I couldn’t sit in a pew and truly appreciate what was happening in a service because my mind was occupied by all the things I had learned. I didn’t want to go to church and sing hymns and act like the past didn’t happen. I saw the effects of the history of the Church firsthand, and it scared me.
It scared me because I didn’t understand. I became so occupied in my rage that I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of the fact that my faith is centred in love. I forgot that my church flies a rainbow flag outside because that is a living apology to the LGBTQ+ community, a constant reminder that God’s love is for all. I forgot that my church has a Right Relations committee to live out our commitment to Reconciliation and to always remember what happened, so it doesn’t happen again. I’ve seen changes in the way my congregation worships- including the acknowledgement of the land on which we worship and the presence of dedicated committees for several social justice issues. These changes bring me joy. They remind me, in all my cynicism, that the path to healing has no defined course. There is no end to this story.
I guess the best way for me (and Christians as a whole) to move forward is to continue working. I am making a conscious effort to always embody the best teachings Jesus has taught me. I am called to love unconditionally, to live authentically, and to speak thoughtfully. I am going through the motions, yes, as I come to terms with the fact that we are not perfect. Damage has been done and we, as God’s people, must make it right no matter how long it takes or how painful it may be.