Can You Be Spiritually Connected Without Church?
When I was 15, my older cousin took me to a Methodist church in Queens, New York. This cousin, Cousin Kiki, was my Beyoncé: a Biology student in college, she was (and still is) one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen up close. Beyond that, she was my perpetual ride to the mall, my companion for trashy movies, my sounding board for tweenaged angst, and my chaperone for R&B concerts my parents wouldn’t let me attend alone. Cousin Kiki had all the responsibility of a guardian, yet I was too enamored with her to realize it.
I would’ve gone anywhere she asked, so when she proposed that we go to her church one Sunday afternoon, I was game. I think I was actually excited.
I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was the music that seemed to come from somewhere beyond vocal chords, or maybe it was the word (long gone from my memory), but I remember being moved to tears. I’d sobbed as the pastor invited those who felt moved to head to the altar. One of the ushers put an arm around me and helped me down the aisle where the pastor prayed over me and some other congregants who felt called. When service was over, I was counseled briefly, asked to put my name on a mailing list, and sent on my way.
I never went back.
Though it felt like a moment of deep connection, I didn’t feel a pull to explore the faith. Cousin Kiki never pushed it. She trusted me when I told her that place wasn’t meant to be my spiritual home. More than 15 years later, I’m still homeless.
According to Pew Research from 2009, 83 percent of African-Americans identify as Protestants/Christians, and one percent as Muslim. I’m among the 17 percent who fit elsewhere. Over the years, as my faith has changed and shifted, I’ve tried to find a traditional church community that felt right. I’ve also explored Buddhist temples and Universalist churches. While the teachings speak to me and the work happening within each congregation is often powerful and transformative, the buildings and people never feel like ‘home.’ The introvert in me doesn’t want to stay for the chat and chew. When volunteer forms float around, I sign up but never attend. Though, to the untrained eye, I must seem like a millennial cherry picker, I am deeply committed to cultivating a spiritual connection with the divine, and being an embodiment of goodness in the world. I’m a person who has done 10-day silent meditations and spends much of her contemplative time in solitude. I have spiritual mentors across many denominations who I can call on for guidance and further study, yet I want to find solace in a single place. I crave the ritual and the connection that comes from having a spiritual home. I am hungry for a physical location and a group of people with whom I can nourish my faith over a lifetime.
Those who are like me often tout the idea that many of the individuals in a church community are NOT overwhelmingly Godly. Though that may be true, it’s also a cop-out. Just as you wouldn’t disown your family because sometimes they aren’t familial, it seems unfair to use the “church people can be messy” argument to disavow the importance of a spiritual home. In a church family you can find intergenerational conversations and community action. You can find in-depth study of ancient texts–and good friends to hit brunch with after service. Mostly, however, I imagine that when one finds a spiritual home, they commit to a sustained and concentrated understanding of their faith.
Maybe that’s what scares me the most. There’s no path that I agree with completely.
While I understand the value of spiritual community and traditional religious paths, I also wish that those who follow traditional paths had more respect for my wandering ways. I wish they understood that spiritual homelessness doesn’t mean soul depravity. Spiritual homelessness does not mean spiritual inferiority. It doesn’t mean that I’m living (too far) against the tenants of the Bible. It simply means the walk in faith is often a lonely journey.
My hope is that, until I find my home, we all meet on this winding road with open hearts.
Patia Braithwaite is a God-loving writer in New York City. To learn more about her journey in love, life and spirituality visit: www.menmyselfandgod.com. She also tweets and instagrams when she feels like it: @pdotbrathw8