Religion was never an enforced element of my upbringing. Although, being home schooled in the south, it was certainly present. Almost every after-“school” activity was held in a church. I grew up Baptist. My family would go to church every Sunday and sometimes Wednesdays but it was never required. If I didn’t want to go one day, I wasn’t threatened or pulled against my will to attend. My mother, however, had an expectation to attend. All the other moms were present, so she should be, too. When our church closed its doors, I was around 6. My mom was free of her expectations and since then has only ever attended church about a handful of times. My family made sure to make the point that if I wanted to continue going to a church, they would find me one to attend, and if I wanted them there they would be there. Even at that age, however, I understood the concept of practicing from home. That church wasn’t required in order to uphold your “holiness”. I never pressured my family to attend, however, I did make them find me a new church. It was always my choice.
I hopped from church to church for years. I was very particular. I needed to feel accepted. I needed a church to feel like a home; somewhere I could go to and immediately feel “His” presence. I wanted diversity and smiling faces, a family that wasn’t exclusively blood. In my church search, I experienced the cultism aspect of religion. Many churches were exclusive, sheathed behind whispers and The Trusted Few. I witnessed churches that praised their pastor/preacher/priest more so than their God. I witnessed churches that hardly even mentioned the word God or Jesus or Bible.
Eventually, my uncle introduced me to a church that met my criteria. I was happy there. I felt like I was a piece of the church, more than just an attendee. I would always treat the grown-ups with respect, help at any opportunity, come early to help set up, study my bible verses, and always remember the lessons. The people there accepted me, however, I only ever really gained knowledge. There was no discussion or debate; what we learned was never questioned, just accepted. Doing so, I learned the facts of the bible but not the concepts behind them. I eventually learned that it was simply somewhere to be and not to further my spiritual journey. There was no expressive outlets of religion offered. It was all routine. Just church goers, going to church.
I remember when I was around 10, my mom and I were discussing evolution. The point came across that in our religion we don’t believe in evolution, and I argued that I did. My mom asked me whether or not I still considered myself religious, and I asked “why can’t I believe in both religion and science?”
My neighbor invited me to her church. It was my first non-baptist church I had ever attended. The environment was completely different. Instead of a large sanctuary sitting a thousand fancy dressed people, I was presented with a small, few rows of pews filled with jean wearing families. Their lessons were full of discussion and ideas. I felt unrestricted.
This was also the age in which I started questioning everything. My first existential crisis lasted about 5 years. Those 5 years lived out at this church. So, they had to suffer through the constant questions, debates, ideas. This was also around the time I was learning about new religions in school. I would constantly question Christianity and the things I was taught about it, and compared it to the other religions I was learning about.
In my churches before, we never opened the lesson up to debate or questions. I never had the free rein of opinions. This church, however, was different. And as my curiosity grew, so did my voice.