Church weirdos

Photo: Andrew Seaman, Unsplash.

O Eternal God, receive my life as a sacrifice for your mystical body, the Church. — St. Catherine of Siena 

I grew up on a dairy farm in a farming community. Sunday rest was pretty sacred. The cows were milked and fed, but otherwise it was church, food and lengthy naps. 

My brother got a job at our local grocery store when he turned 16. His boss wanted to schedule him for Sundays, and my mother wouldn’t hear of it. She told him he had to quit. 

My brother diplomatically negotiated a deal that he could work on Sunday afternoons or evenings. Never a Sunday morning. 

And just like that, the sanctity of Sunday was downsized to 7 a.m. to noon. 

Next came the travel sports teams. By the time I was a young adult, it wasn’t uncommon for children (and their parents) to miss Sunday church service multiple times a month because they were out of town playing basketball or soccer or whatever sport was in season. 

Mostly though, it seemed that society generally considered Sunday mornings off limits for group activities. If people weren’t at church, they were sleeping in and taking it easy. 

As the years go by, I see Sunday becoming more and more like Saturday. 

My kids’ coaches have tried to schedule practice for Sunday morning. Their friends plan sleepovers for Saturday night into Sunday morning. Professional sports are occasionally aired mid-morning on a Sunday, including our beloved Kansas City Chiefs.

Last month, a dad told me they wouldn’t be at church the next day because his 3-year-old was going to her classmate’s birthday party. 

It feels like the sanctity of Sunday has disappeared completely. 

As fewer people make regular church attendance a priority, especially after COVID, families like ours become the anomaly. The eccentric ones. The religious freaks. 

As a parent, this is tricky to negotiate. While I prioritize our church community and communal worship for our family, I also know that children want to fit in with their peers, especially as they enter middle school and high school. Missing a lot of sleepovers, practices or other group activities is potentially embarrassing and ostracizing. 

Kids should experience church as a place of refuge, love and support. Not something that causes them to feel left out and odd. I don’t want them to resent church. 

For years we crossed our fingers and hoped other activities wouldn’t conflict with church. When they inevitably did, it led to frustration, tears and, yes, resentment. 

We’re trying to lean into the fact that we’re different than other families. We’re embracing the alternative lifestyle we’ve chosen. 

I tell my son’s coaches upfront that he can’t practice on Wednesday night (Agape Kids) or all day Sunday (Sunday school, church, choir and family supper). My daughter decided it would be easier to just tell her boss that she isn’t available to work Wednesdays (handbell choir) or Sundays (see her brother’s schedule, plus youth group). 

Other parents know we’re the family that picks up our son after a sleepover at 9:45 a.m. with a granola bar and church clothes in tow. 

So far, this has been more successful than trying to blend in. Every time I’ve told a coach, teacher or friend we aren’t available during church times, they have been gracious and accommodating. Some ask about the specific church and the activities we do. 

When our daughter told her friends she was in a handbell choir and showed them a video, they loved it for its weirdness, and several joked about joining. 

I often hear “Christianity is under attack,” and I’m tempted to reply, “Sundays are under attack.” But this really isn’t the case.

People aren’t attacking church. They’ve just forgotten about it. There isn’t antagonism, just surprise that such a thing matters anymore. 

Claiming our identity as Christians and celebrating that we are, in some ways, out of step with the rest of society has been a source of peace for our family. We’re weird, and we’re proud. 

The challenge now is to think deeply about why church matters to us and be able to put that into words so we can explain it to others, particularly our children. 

But that is a topic for my next column. In the meantime, walk proud (but humbly!) as a religious person in a secular world.  

Sarah Kehrberg

Sarah Kehrberg lives in the Craggy Mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and three children.

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