I Finally Found a Safe Space in the Church
To live a more Christlike life, I had to leave behind 2,000 years of tradition.
This Narrative Belongs To:
There are two definitions for the word “church”: It can mean a building that serves as the house of worship for a community of Christians, or the actual community itself.
The former doesn’t hold much value in the grand scheme of things. Church buildings are useful and can be apogees of religious architecture. But Saint Paul doesn’t advise the early Christians that they should have a mandatory house of worship. But the community? Absolutely.
A place of worship sounds like something of true spiritual beauty, and I had been longing for this feeling for many years.
Get Our Newsletter
I Grew Up in a Church That Was Stuck in Another Time
My family is of a particular Christian denomination that is culturally and ethnically exclusive to South India. But it is also of a lineage tracing back to the first century A.D., during the early spread of Christianity.
As a child, being raised in a specific denomination can either make or break you. The younger me had no autonomy, so I could only rely on my parents to take us all to church every Sunday. Remembering the 16 years of attending this church makes me wonder how I tolerated it at all. I had to follow the dress code for women because anything else was deemed inappropriate. Women must cover their hair with a scarf or a similar garment. Our liturgy and doctrine were rather strict and structured too. Sunday school was no different to being at regular school, with tests and exams and scolding when we didn't memorize our Bible verses. I also ended up traumatized while in a vulnerable position.
As a growing adolescent, I would come across individuals on the internet sharing their experiences as Christians in our church. The majority of the stories were sadly horrific, about the way they were made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. That’s why many young people decide to leave the church once it is possible for them to do so.
I’m quite surprised that my faith itself never wavered. Given how frequently people abandon their religion due to oppression, it would’ve made sense. But I sought out faith. I believed in God—it was the people who nearly ruined it.
Churches can also hold conservative views on subjects like LGBTQIA+ rights, abortion and perspectives on other religions and atheism. The judgmental manner in which these topics are discussed leaves no room for dialogue and has caused a decrease in church attendance. I fully support the LGBTQIA+ community; they are all loved by God and deserve to be happy. Everyone has free will and one can’t decide for others, so being pro-choice makes more sense to me as a Christian. I take no issue with others following other religions or those who are atheist or agnostic. I’m not trying to say, “I’m better than the hateful Christians.” I just want to practice Christianity as Christ taught and to have a space to worship where that’s encouraged.
The church is described as the body of Christ, and the teachings of Christ are that of love. We are also called to treat others as we would like to be treated. We are called to be welcoming and humble in our faith. When church bodies represent exclusion and moral superiority, they shouldn’t feel surprised that many people turn away from God altogether.
Churches Need to Give Us the Freedom to Love
I needed a church that takes the Lord seriously while also ensuring the congregation is accommodated so anyone can participate in worship.
Sure, church isn’t supposed to be a place to party and do as one pleases—that would render the church as a community redundant and make the church just another building. Routine and ritual can greatly aid in ensuring that God remains the sole focus. At the same time, there is no one way to construct a church doctrine and liturgy. Each denomination has its own way of practicing its Christian faith, and individuals have a preference. Some may find the strict structures appropriate; others may prefer a relaxed approach.
I knew that the church I was raised in was not the right one for me. I value its history because it is closely connected to Christ himself. Given the whitewashed image of Christianity in the West, this is something I still hold on to, as it’s also part of my heritage, alongside being a person of color. But I find it a real shame that the church's practices overshadow this heritage and that they kept me from feeling like it was my home.
The blessing of becoming an independent adult meant that I was able to make my own decisions for once. As lockdown began in 2020, church moved to Zoom, and some Sunday mornings, we would watch live streams of the service. Even then, it was irritating to sit through.
As restrictions were lifted and churches could accommodate people again, I decided to attend a different local church near our home. As a family, we had attended the services very rarely, perhaps three times in total. It was a real turning point when I walked into this local church for the first time in years.
Although the church congregation is predominantly white and older, I was immediately welcomed into their little community. I had worries that I would stick out because of my skin color, my youth and my shyness, but there were zero issues. Many members even came up to me and started conversations.
I Moved Away From Tradition and Found a New Family
I’ve been a part of the church for nine months now. I’m friendly with many members. We converse after the service and occasionally meet up at events. They hug me. The latter especially surprised me because physical acts of affection were almost nonexistent at my previous church. Back there, conversations were centered on people who tried to measure everyone’s success through academic and professional success. Other times, there would be no conversation at all as I stood amongst other kids my age, staying silent or contributing very little.
To experience this love I’ve been shown at my new church has been a huge relief, to the point where I get emotional. Circumstances may change in the future, but I remain excited to worship the Lord with this new family. I pray that others who wish to leave their church, whatever their beliefs, can find a home the way I have.
The church should be a welcoming and safe space for believers and nonbelievers alike. It doesn’t matter the denomination, unless it strays far from the teachings of Christ. When the doors of a church are ignorantly shut, it cannot become a safe space for those who seek a relationship or an understanding of Christ.