I have been a member of my parish community for 18 years at the end of this month. We moved into our house 18 years ago at the end of this month, and we had been church hopping as a hobby for a couple of years--mostly because the geographic parish where we found ourselves was kind of punishing. So we went from here to there, mostly city parishes and a few south county ones I knew from my childhood.
None of them felt like home.
So we moved, we bought this house, and my grandmother told me I should call up at the church and get myself registered. I called, and the priest answered. Asked me where I lived, and told me that I actually was right past the boundaries. Told me what parish I lived in, and I said, "Oh, ok, I'll give them a call."
"Wait," he said. "Do you have kids?"
"Do you plan to have kids?"
So we registered. He was very charismatic and I liked his homilies and it was good.
He confirmed me, at the back of church, right below where we hang the advent wreath. Smeared the chrism oil all over my forehead. Be sealed.
He hired me. To teach math even though I had no business teaching math--and discovered quickly that I had no business doing anything else.
He fired me. Not exactly. I was pregnant and hormones were affecting my ability to use my prefrontal lobe. I wasn't fired. We just...parted ways. And that was fine. I had a baby and kept going to church. Let him baptize her, even.
I got pregnant again. I found myself slipping away. Did I really believe all of this? I just wasn't sure. So I prayed about it. And the week after London was born, the diocese told us we would be closing. The heartbreak I felt? Told me that maybe I believed in something about this place, if nothing else. I went to meetings with a newborn baby and watched as elders of my parish put together a counter proposal.
We stayed open.
London's first year, I came to the conclusion that I couldn't be Catholic just because I played softball with nuns and liked the way Rose sang. I couldn't. So I prayed some more, and I went on retreat with Sr. Cathy and learned about St. Hildegarde and read some more and prayed some more and got nominated for Parish Council.
In our first year as a council, our priest announced he was leaving, and I wasn't sad. I had sat at his difficult table long enough. I had learned a lot--mostly about how to stay in community and admit that *I* was the difficult person at the table! And I was ok with that. The council got to meet Fr. Miguel before anyone else.
I fell in love with him.
Absolutely madly in love with him. Everything about him.
I spent ten years at his table, sharing it with Sister as well. It was all kinds of perfect. I learned about liturgical art. I made some phenomenal banners. I learned more about plants than I ever wanted to know. I defied boy scout leaders who were mean to me and bought my own damned trees, thank you. I decorated for Christmas. For Easter. For Pentecost. I went to meetings.
I became a Benedictine Oblate. I went on retreat.
I tore up carpet in the sanctuary and scraped terrible tile off the floor to reveal hexagon tiles and a snowflake pattern in front of the alter. I cleaned up the messes and reorganized the sacristies and lay on the floor in front of the communion rail laughing and drinking coffee after a long day's work.
I drank wine, too, and liquor 43, and all sorts of sweet vodka things. I hugged and kissed many, many people hello and goodbye. I ran an atrium, for one year, in the basement. I wandered through the old school building looking at photographs preserve your memories they're all that's left you. I stole some furniture from the school. A pew from the church (well, I was given the pew). I brought my parents from their university church over to my parish and sat next to them at 10 am mass each week.
I learned from Sister, so much, so many beautiful things about my faith. And so many things about how to run a church.
I lived for Miguel's homilies some weeks.
The day London received first communion, he invited her and the other little girl to sit on the sanctuary steps with him for the homily and he talked directly to them. So verklempt watching it. He nearly waterboarded Niles by mistake at his baptism.
He sat in confessionals with me time and again and reminded me that no, that isn't a sin either.
And then the bishop moved him. The same year Sister went home to her motherhouse in Texas.
I could have handled one of those ok, I think. Maybe. I was happy for Sister--she was going home, literally, and about to do a job that our parish had helped her prepare for. And she was happy. I was sad for Miguel. I think he loved our place in south city.
But like the army, there's a hierarchy in the church and you go where you're posted and he did. And now? We're friends, better than perhaps we could have been when he was my pastor. So I'm happy for that.
But this is a long hollow year for me when I think about church with a lower case "c". I am not in a place in my life where I can be the full time volunteer. And so I've withdrawn. Retreated. Hibernated. I go to church. I listen to Rose and Ann sing. I listen to homilies that feel like university freshman level theology lectures. Not bad, not offensive. Just a little...less...than I'm used to. I like our new priest.
But he isn't Miguel.
And there's no Sister.
And I'm a little adrift because I was a great lieutenant, but I can't be a captain, and I can't be some hot headed general. So I've docked myself in rank and I'm just a soldier in the pews again.
Praying that I can find my way.
I went out with Ann and Miguel last week. And we talked about loss and change and how hard things are hard.
And Ann pointed at me. "I thought you were going to join the choir!" she accused.
I was. When my kids went to school, I'd told her, I would join. I'm an alto who can read music and follow a stronger voice.
Just. Like. In. My. Whole. Life.
So I'm going to show up on Sunday. I think--it's Mother's Day and I don't know if I can, but I'll try. But if it's this Sunday or next, I'm going to sing.
I'm going to try again.
Because this is where I hang my hat.