Sunday 9 October 2022

Attending Church

Historic St. Thomas Anglican Church, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Old St Thomas' Anglican Church - St Thomas, ON - Anglican and Episcopal Churches on

"Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:25 NIV

I believe in attending church. And, up until the last several years, aside from when my nursing career prevented me from doing so, I attended every Sabbath, unless ill or vacationing in a location where there was no Adventist church to attend. The church I had been attending, and where my membership remains is an hour's drive from my home. For various reasons, I stopped attending there, and it just became more convenient to watch various ministries online. That was long before the pandemic started. I tried attending the local Adventist church, where I have had my membership in the past, but I generally left there frustrated, not fed and blessed. 

And now I'm home, struggling with anxiety and depression, and I really would like to be able to go back to church. However, with fuel prices being so high, and winter on the horizon, and me now having winter driving phobia, I don't really think going back to the church where I hold membership is a realistic option. 

I have attended the local church online a couple of times recently. I found it challenging because it's done via Microsoft Teams, which meant sitting at my computer with my headset on and my cat yelling at me in the background. When I watch other services, it's generally via my Roku on my TV in the living room and my cat can sit on my lap and not yell forlornly. 

I decided to attempt attending in person, where my cat - and the phone and whatever else - can't distract me. Our denomination has Sabbath School for all ages, including adults. So, I figured I would attend just Sabbath School at first and see how that went. Yesterday, even though I would rather not, I went to Sabbath School. I didn't want people making a big fuss over me or drawing attention to me, so was quite relieved that there was no greeter at the door. It's not a big church and there's not a large attendance, so I knew that even though I slipped in quietly, I would not go unnoticed to those on the platform. I sat down in the back pew with a woman I knew and we clasped hands briefly, greeted each other quietly and smiled. I tried to deal with the anxiety of being there by the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, etc., going through the 5 senses. It wasn't working, so I stared at the carpet, which has a very pronounced pattern and pondered whether it would work as a quilting pattern, where to start, how to do it. That worked better at calming me than the other technique. Then the woman on the platform decided to make a point of welcoming a couple of people that "we haven't seen for a long time." I put my head down: "Please, no!" The first was one of her daughters who was home visiting. Then she mentioned me. By name. From the platform! I looked up scowling at her, hoping to shut her up. But instead, she said, "Yes, you! We know you tried to sneak in unnoticed and sit in the back pew." It's still painful, and I'm struggling not to cry as I'm typing this. But it wasn't till this morning, as I was messaging a friend to tell him what happened that I realized that that was abusive. It trully was! She may have thought it was perfectly acceptable because the old me would have been fine with it. Or maybe just mildly annoyed. And I believe (I hope) that she was just trying to be genuinely welcoming. But the anxious me most definitely was not okay with it. And how insensitive can we be to recognize that someone tried to sneak into church unnoticed, yet still deliberately draw attention to them? Oh Lord, help me not to be so insensitive, to recognize situations that make people uncomfortable and make sure I don't cause them and to do what I can to stop them. 

Nevertheless, I did end up staying through the Sabbath School lesson, but left before the closing hymn. That way I wouldn't have to deal with well-meaning people overwhelming me. 

This morning is the memorial service for my friend that died of COVID a couple of months ago. I fully intended to go, even though it would have been challenging for me. It's not the grief because grief is a normal part of the human experience and I'm not afraid of facing it. It's the anxiety. I really don't want to be with all of those people. I feel guilty for not going. I did send her husband an email expressing my condolences, but I would have liked to be able to be there for the family, to show my care and support. But after what happened yesterday, I just don't feel that I can. I don't even know if I will ever try to go back to that church again. 

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