Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Going to Church Alone

I go to church alone on Sunday morning, but I'm hardly the only one. A growing number of couples in America are redefining the role of religion in their marriages. For some of them, like the Washington couple from NPR's Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes in God, that means that one partner goes to church on Sunday while the other one stays home.

I did not realize that half-religious marriages were a growing trend until I read the article, but I was not surprised. America is becoming less and less religious. A third of Americans under the age of thirty claim "none" as their religion on the last census. My husband was one of them.

While I was dating Clifton, I knew that he was not religious. We had a few debates about it. Debating religion was an acceptable exercise while I was getting to know someone else, but when we started to thinking about marriage, I made a few things clear: just because I would take his last name didn't mean I would take his lack of godliness.

Fortunately, we agreed easily on the issues that concerned me most. My attendance at church events was something that wasn't to be tolerated with disdain, but accepted as an important part of my person. Clifton's lack of attendance at church events was not to be a constant source of nagging, but accepted as an important part of his person. 

(Although he agreed that he would attend church on important days and I have found that he likes to be invited when there is food. I have also discovered that if his sudden appearance at church causes a major influx of "why don't you ever come to church?" and ""when will your husband come to church with you again?" there is a lot of strain between us. Indeed, I have stopped attending a church because of this sort of behavior by the congregation. The congregants at St. George's most likely think I am either a single mother in the military or my husband is constantly deployed.)

We also agreed that our children would be raised Episcopalian, but could choose to stay home when they became older. In fact, Owen already exercises that privilege by making his naptime the same time as church, so he is left home in the crib. I already believed that a Christian should remember his or her baptism, so his insistence that we wait for the children to decide for themselves to be baptized or not was an easy compromise.

I can imagine that some Christians feel that such a marriage would be impossible for them, but I have never felt unsupported in my faith by Clifton. When I told him I wanted to be more involved in the ministry of the church a few months ago, he offered to attend church with me to hold Owen while I read the scriptures or served the communion wine. (I decided to volunteer in the Altar Guild, which is more behind-the-scenes.)

Do I wish that Clifton was a Christian like me? Of course. I always hope to "convert" him by showing him the role of Christ in my life. I also hope that my children will grow up to accept the love of Christ and become active Episcopalians. But I place all of my hopes in the hands of God and accept his will in these things and take seriously my vows to cherish and love my husband-- no matter his religion.

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  1. This was my family- Mom took us to church, dad stayed home. He was an Episcopalian, mom was a Catholic. He occasionally went to Christmas pageants, and all of my sacraments. I also went to Sunday School, and a Methodist summer camp. I made the decision at 12 to stop going to church, and decided not to be confirmed, I gave my parents good reasons for both decisions and they supported it. I'd like to think I turned out just fine. As long as everyone respects each other, and has a constant, open, judgement-free dialogue, so will your family ;)

    1. Yes, I think this is the reality for a lot of families, but, maybe because I have been going to churches where I am completely new to them and the area, congregations have been making a big deal out of Clifton not coming to church with me. Like I said, I left a church because the pressure they would put on me when I would go without Clifton was too much. One lady even said to Clif, "You shouldn't let your wife go to church alone. You should drive her there." What?! Craziness. Whenever I mention my husband at the church I attend now, I either get asked when he is coming home (because he's deployed, of course) or if he is doing okay (because he is being medically discharged, it is assumed he is so injured he can't make it out of the house to church). More than once I have corrected someone who thought I was a single mother, despite the wedding band. But this difficulty could probably be explained by me being new to the area. I hope that the arrangement will make our children respectful of people's beliefs, religious or not, which I think is closer to the golden rule teachings of Jesus than shame, shame the nonbelievers.


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