To Church Hunt or Not to Church Hunt?

Model of Bethel Lutheran Church, Avoca, TX

By Kate Henley Averett

Ever since we decided to move to Austin, I’ve had this nagging question at the back of my mind – should I look for a church there? And if so, what kind?

A few months before the move, I did some research – googling “Austin queer friendly churches” and other similar phrases. I was surprised by the number of options I came up with, from UU to United Methodist congregations to independent churches with hard-to-pinpoint theological stances. But I never went back to any of the websites after that day.

It’s one thing to decide to leave the Catholic Church. It was, in some ways, the hardest and most emotionally wrought decision I’ve ever made, even though at the end of it all, the decision was made because I truly felt like I had no other choice. But it’s another to take the step to find a new, non-Catholic faith community. Because even as I say, “I’ve left,” I have a hard time picturing myself claiming some other tradition as my own.

And then again, I have a hard time picturing myself going through life without a faith community of some sort. Last week my wife and I visited her grandparents in west Texas and went to see her family’s church. It’s a beautiful stone Church that stands strikingly against the dry, flat landscape, a building lovingly constructed by the community’s own hands under the guidance of my wife’s great-grandfather, who served as pastor of the Church for many years. We looked through the archives and saw the confirmation pictures of her grandmother, her mother, and her aunts and uncles, and everywhere we looked there were names and pictures of great-uncles, cousins’ kids, and various other relatives.

What a marvelous thing, I thought, to be a part of a community like that, where your family history is so intertwined with the history of the church that even the building is like a member of the family. I want that. I want it for myself. I want it for my future children – I want them to have a community that loves them and that cares about their well-being and that will join my wife and me in nurturing them. I want them to have a community that feels like home to them, but also a physical space where they feel at home, where they feel their own history intertwined with the community’s history and know that they are an important part of a greater whole.

All this is hypothetical at this point, as I don’t have kids yet and don’t plan on having them while I’m living in Austin. But if I’m going to get to that place some day, where I feel comfortable settling into a non-Catholic community with my family, I get the sense I shouldn’t wait until the time comes to start figuring out what kind of church community I want to call home. But it’s easier to put the decision off for a little while. Because until I’ve started looking elsewhere, I feel like I haven’t left the Catholic Church entirely behind, and even while I recognize that spiritually and psychologically it’s probably not the healthiest space to be in, I find it comfortable. I’ve already made one extremely uncomfortable spiritual decision this year – must I make another one so soon? How long can I allow myself to cling to my past before I have to force myself forward?

Kate Henley Averett received her MDiv from Harvard in 2008. She recently moved to Austin, TX, where she is soon to begin doctoral work in Sociology.

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5 Responses

  1. So why don’t you want to remain Catholic?

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Every time I move somewhere new, I end up doing a big search for a church (so far a Catholic church), and then, after I pick one, I don’t really commit to it fully. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should try getting more involved in the one I found here, especially their queer-oriented groups, or whether the fact that I keep not doing so means I should at least start exploring other kinds of churches… I really have the same desires, especially in my sense of church as a community based on something other than (only) personal affinity and enjoyment, and the necessity of that kind of community… but I don’t know how or when to push myself in some actual direction to be a part of some such community. It’s a huge part of why I can’t just comfortably be the eccentric Catholic queer I feel myself to be in my heart, and why I also can’t just comfortably sit myself down somewhere else and look around for a different kind of community.

    At least not yet, not yet, not yet…. neither one just yet…

    It’s more uncomfortable and pressing to me than I know how to express, so I usually let it rest and don’t do much about it. But I totally and deeply understand your experience here.

    In other news, we’re gonna go see a play in the NYC Fringe tonight about a Catholic lesbian… I’ll let you know how it is.

  3. Ruth Ann – In response to your question, I hope you’ll take a moment to read a piece I wrote during Lent – it will, hopefully, explain why I’ve left the church.

    http://fromthepewsintheback.com/2010/04/14/done/

    -KHA

  4. Before you give up completely, please do go to the University Catholic Center at UT, run by the Paulists. My family and I returned there for a visit last January and it had the same feel and warmth it did 25 years ago when I was a student there. The Paulists are simply remarkable. This is what we now refer to as a “deliberate community”, and I think it really makes a difference. There is little doubt in my mind that not only have I remained Catholic in spite of many MANY things that give me pause, but that my own career as a theologian was inspired by places and people like this in the church. They are there, and, frankly, Austin is a pretty good place to find such a community. Through the many years I sat in the pew listening to crappy homilies from (most of) the (diocesan) boys, and found it difficult to impossible to share my gifts due to intimidated pastors, I remembered that the Church is so much more and sought out likewise minded Catholic people to form community with. I know I don’t have to tell you that there is more than one way to celebrate as and be a eucharistic people! Now we are in the Boston area, ground zero for you-know-what and seeking out a deliberate community here made a difference as well. (Did you go to St. Ig when you were in Boston?)

    Of course, I know that there is pain and alienation in the church that is not part of my experience, so I can only speak for my own struggles, but when I think of leaving the Church, I ultimately find myself asking, “Lord, to whom shall I go?” The only truly sensitive, enlightened and faith-filled person in the world is ME!! HA!!!!! 😉

    Peace on the journey, but also, the blessings of friends and just enough frustration to remind you that the struggle to find and participate in community is worth it.

    Hook em Horns!

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