Churching alone

By Missy Morain

I hate going to church alone. No, actually I despise going to church alone. I skip going to church on Sunday morning sometimes just so I will not have to go alone. Going alone and sitting there among people makes me fell even more alone than when I am at home all by myself.

Growing up church was always about family for me. I went with my family every Sunday, and skipping was not an option. I sat in the front pew with my mom, sisters, and brother while my father sat in the choir stalls. We always went to church school and came upstairs at the offertory and sat together as a family. The only time when it was different was when I was an acolyte. Then I would sit in the stalls with the rest of the acolytes. Conscious of the fact that I was supposed to be setting a good example, I tried to make faces at my sisters only when no one else was looking. Along the way church became very locked in as a place that I went with family.

When I left home for college I tried going to the local Episcopal Church but felt uncomfortable going alone and eventually stopped going. I am a natural introvert and felt uncomfortable walking in alone, sitting alone and then standing in the narthex watching while everyone around me carried on conversations but no one really looked at me. I compounded the problem by beginning to slip out quickly after the service so I wouldn’t feel so strange. A few years later I went back to that parish as a youth leader and began to form friendships that kept the feeling of isolation at bay, but I was always conscious of the family groups that surrounded me. I also began to develop a new and much less traditional family composed of other single people who were following less traditional paths themselves.

I wonder if this is part of the reason why young adults don’t go to church. We have noticed that young people come to church when they are beginning families but that there is a hole between when they graduate from high school and when they return to church. I wonder if part of the reason that young people stop going to church is because it can be lonely, and because the parish experience is generally geared to families. So that even surrounded by people in the adjoining pews, one can still feel intensely alone.

Eighteen months ago I moved to Washington, D. C., and began the process of finding a new parish. I had never lived anywhere where there was a choice of more than one or two Episcopal parishes and figured that this was my time to explore the ways that parishes differed from each other. Some places were very welcoming; at others it was hard not to feel intensely alone again. I know that eventually I will again build up that community but until I do, going to church is one of the hardest things that I do.

Missy Morain, Program Coordinator for the Cathedral College Center for Christian Formation at Washington National Cathedral, is keeper of the blog Episcopal Princess.

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