My husband, son, and I went to a street festival yesterday with some of our new-parent friends and, after maneuvering our strollers around the food booths, performance stages, and craft stalls for a couple hours, we agreed it was time to get out of the chaotic crowds. By the time we had gathered four couples with babies around a table in a (air conditioned!) Peruvian restaurant, my family had to leave. None of us wanted to go – we’d been looking forward to finally having a conversation with our friends without having to shout over an indie band. But my husband and I had agreed that we would make it to church this weekend, no matter what.
Our church has a 5pm service geared towards busy young people – it’s held in the round, by candlelight, with a shorter sermon and no hymns, followed by socializing over wine and cheese. My husband and I started attending this service while I was pregnant and could not drag myself out of bed in time for the morning service. We made friends there, including a half-dozen other new parents who bring their babies to the 5pm service, making it a fun and safe space for our family to worship together. The only difficulty is that, after a busy week and weekend of deadlines and “to dos,” we are often ready to crash by Sunday evening. After a few weeks of last-minute cancellations, this week my husband and I were determined to make it a priority.
Even so, sitting with our friends yesterday afternoon, I wavered. For one thing, I was really enjoying everyone’s company, and was not ready for our get-together to end. Additionally, I felt awkward about leaving early to go to church. I considered telling a white lie – making up some other place we had to be or thing to do – but could not think of anything else worth ditching our friends for. So I told the truth – we needed to catch a bus to get to the 5pm church service. There were a few questions about what church we attended, but then everyone resumed their conversations about work, babies, and football. My family made a hasty retreat, caught the bus, and had a lovely time at church. Back at home last night, though, I still felt bad about leaving early, and hoped I had not alienated any of our friends by mentioning my faith.
New-parent friends are fantastic. Our son, by virtue of his existence, has enabled my husband and me to meet dozens of fun and fascinating new people. Many of them seem “too cool” for us; we assume they only hang out with us because we have kids the same age, so we really want them to get to know and to like us. Still, there is something unique about being friends with people based on just two commonalities – location and procreation. We have sometimes discovered shared interests or backgrounds along the way, but most of our interactions involve comparing sleep schedules, relating diaper disasters, commiserating about in-laws, and seeking parenting support and advice from one another. Although I have known most of the people we were with yesterday for more than a year (we met through a first-time moms to be group), I have no idea where any of them stand as regards religion.
Personally, my parents were not religious so I used to feel that anyone who mentioned their faith was lording it over me, literally claiming to be “holier than thou.” That experience may have made me hyper-sensitive to the religion issue, which is why I am uncomfortable being public about my faith. As I’ve admitted, I am not a model church-goer, and I am relatively new to my chosen religion, I am still learning about it and figuring out what I believe. Still, my faith gives me tremendous strength and comfort, as does my church community, and it is part of who I am. It is difficult to strike a balance between staying true to myself and not hiding my faith when I am getting to know new people.
Still unsure of whether I did the right thing by being open about our church attendance yesterday, this morning I grappled with a similar issue when debating whether to wear my dove necklace to work. It was made by monks at a French monastery where I spent a summer trying to figure out what I believe, and it happened to go well with the suit I was wearing today. I also knew I had a busy day ahead, so I wanted to have a source of peace on hand (or on neck, as it turned out). I decided to wear the necklace, hoping it was subtle enough not to offend anyone or to change their image of me. I’m not ready to shout it from the rooftops, or wear it on my sleeve, but I can be honest here – I am not an evangelist, I am simply a person of faith.