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.