When I was in fourth grade, my mom decided to start taking my older sister and me to church. My dad is a firm atheist and opted out of church from the very beginning, but my mom wanted us to experience religion.
When I was younger, we had gone to a few other churches but mostly just because we knew some of the priests who were employed there. I grew up in an area that has an Episcopal Seminary, where people are educated and trained to be priests, so a lot of my neighbors were men and women who had moved their families to our town in order to attend this school. Two of our closest family friends are from this movement; so, church and religion were concepts with which I’d been familiar for many years. Still, we never went to church with any frequency until I was eight years old.
Christ Church in Old Town, Alexandria, is a beautiful building that was built before the American Revolution. It is steeped in history and has a lot of funding, which allows the church to take an active part in the philanthropic community. When we first arrived, we sat in the second floor pews and that’s when I saw the church choir come out. Throughout the service, this small but powerful choir led the hymns and then sang a beautiful song during communion. I was mesmerized. That very afternoon, I had my mom sign me up to be in the Christ Church choir. For the next ten years, I went to choir practice every Wednesday and Thursday night. I’m not sure my mom, my sister, and I would have continued to go to Christ Church for as long as we did if I hadn’t been involved, but my commitment meant that from ages 8 to 18, I was actively going to church every week.
Attending church every week and discussing religion in general became a regular practice. But, outside of church, I lived a fairly unreligious life. My parents didn’t discuss religion very much, and I knew that my dad didn’t believe in any of it, but they were very conscious about letting me decide for myself what role religion would play in my life. They knew it was, and is, a very personal decision to make, and I am lucky I lived in an environment where I could ask questions but wasn’t expected to believe in any one thing.
All that time spent going to church made me think a lot about higher powers and what, if anything, is out there watching over us. Each Sunday, I would hear a sermon about the religious readings and then I would talk them over with my peers in Sunday school. This increased my knowledge about religious history and practice, but, honestly, none of it really stuck. I couldn’t find, or make, a real connection with the Scripture. Even though each week different people who had found inspiration and companionship with Christ surrounded me, I couldn’t fully empathize with them or understand how they were able to make such a bond.
Despite this, there was something I really loved about going to church every week. I liked singing in the choir and I liked hearing the interpretations of the different priests on the Scripture. The routine was nice, as was the community. By the time I was 15, I was pretty well known in the Christ Church community and many of the priests I came to know took the time to give me volunteer opportunities and made themselves available if I had any questions or concerns about life in general. Because of their generosity and guidance, I decided to get confirmed in the Episcopal Church, as I believed it would help solidify my feelings towards religion in general.
Now, at the age of 22, I still can’t say if I have any solid feelings towards religion. Growing up in a religious environment made me very aware of organized religion and the politics surrounding it. But it also gave me a new way of thinking about religion and spirituality that I would not have gotten otherwise. In all my time at church, I have come to realize that I am certainly a spiritual person, but not a particularly religious one. What I mean is that I firmly believe that there is something keeping all of us balanced and that miracles and divinity are possible, but I can’t fully believe what the Scripture says happened so long ago.
Religion is so personal, and how one interprets or embodies religion is unique to each individual. I’m happy that I’ve had such a broad education in world religions and Christianity because I feel like I can make an informed decision about what role religion plays in my life. But I also feel as though I am not tied to any one belief, which allows me to grow and change with my spirituality. Religion and spirituality, like so may other things, are fluid. I may not have one particular belief now, but allowing myself to be open to spirituality and, in turn, open to new experiences, makes me feel as though I am a part of something greater than myself. And that, more than anything, gives me hope about what’s to come.