ALERT – this is me thinking out loud, which may not be a good idea, as I can go round in circles, and confuse myself and others. This post may also get deleted, or I may not react well to comments! You have been warned.
After a long, somewhat depressing conversation with a best friend last night, I am horrified to discover a few things I am deeply not happy about.
One of the things I’ve been finding most difficult over the last couple or years or so is the treatment I’ve been getting as a single person in the churches I’ve gone to. It would seem that people turning up on their own to church are deeply confusing. I’ve got a long, long list of some pretty inept comments, and attitudes from churches who do pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming. I don’t think I go in with a bad attitude, but I’ve often got one by the time I’ve left. I used to be very confident about walking into a strange church and settling in. In fact, I’ve never had to go round churches to find one, wherever I’ve moved to, and I’ve moved a lot. I was always welcomed, and made part of the “family” . But, then in those days, I could do much voluntarily, and when I couldn’t it was understood why I couldn’t. Now, I work long hours, and commute quite a distance, and have neither time nor energy to offer, I’m brushed to one side and ignored. When I do have time, things have ground to a halt, (I’m horrified at how tied to school terms churches are, and how anything I could get to or do stops in the school holidays.) So, now I’m very wary, and keep myself to myself. From preferring small friendly congregations I can be a part of and contribute to, I’m finding large ones I can hide in, and slip in and out at either end of services without being noticed far preferable.
My friend suggested to me that what I’ve been experiencing is nothing other than she had been getting all her life in church as a single, competent woman. I was deeply puzzled, as I have always regarded myself as single for my whole adult life, so why this sudden change of attitude that I’ve been encountering. I’d been blaming myself totally, (for I freely admit I was not at my best for the first year or so) and beating myself up for not being more sociable, more out-going. It could only be my fault I was finding church so hard because churches had not changed, had they?… BUT… After further conversation with best friend, however, it would appear others have not regarded me as single apart from for the last 2.5 years. (when the difficulties started) OK, so I’ve not been married, or in the kind of committed relationship with anyone else that would cause others to regard me as unavailable but I have spent 20 years as a member of a religious community, 14 of those in life vows. No, I did not regard myself as available if the right man happened by, but I didn’t regard myself as married either.
It’s a sad fact but I’m not that keen on revealing the fact I’ve just revealed. I’m mostly hoping people skim past it, and move onto more interesting things. But no, they grind to a mental halt, and insist on interrogating me… What, why and how. As they did for those 20 years. Then the question were about why I chose that way of life. now they are about why did I leave….
A quick ring round of various single friends confirmed my suspicions. As a member of a religious community, I did not count as single. I was safely part of a group, and therefore not a problem I was clearly identifiable from the moment I stepped into the church. As a single person now, who is much more anonymous, I am a Problem to be solved, a person to be watched, someone to be given Things to Do because I have time, as a single person has no responsibilities. (So, just who exactly does my housework/gardening/finances/shopping if I don’t?) I am a dangerous person who might be after any single man or woman. Or I might be in need of introducing to someone because I don’t want to be single, do I? (Um… yes, I do. If the right person was to arrive in my life, I would change my mind, but for now single suits me fine…)
Or I might be like Adoha, in Rev, fixated on the vicar. Please, I’ve spent way too much time around the church and seen the worst.
Children are to be avoided now, because I might be grooming them, or preying on them. I occasionally ponder bringing my vast collection of enhanced CRB or Disclosure Scotland pieces of paper with me to church every week. Whereas, once upon a time, I’d be surrounded by them in church, because as Sister Japes, I was a safe adult. To be fair, I also don’t want to be involved with children’s or youth work, as I spend my working week with teenagers who are draining. But, it hurts that I have concluded I don’t get involved any more with the odd stray child wandering past, as I used to.
Then, turning up to most services to pray is also regarded as odd for a single, lay person. I’m used to praying with people every day, twice on Sunday and occasionally in the week is not a lot after 20 years 4/5 times a day, 6 days a week. I’ve got a reasonable routine on my own, but it’s not the same.
Sighs… not sure where I go from here. I need to think about it all more. I do think I’ve found somewhere that will be OK, but if it gets too family orientated I may need to slip out for a while. I have found a kind of alternative prayer group which I can slot in and out of. Hopefully, just acknowledging it all may help shift things mentally.