Please welcome today’s guest writer, Katie Ulrich. Katie graduated in 2018 with a degree in strategic communication and international development studies. She works as a Program Coordinator at the Association for a More Just Society, an organization working for justice in Honduras. After spending a few years living in Honduras, Katie now calls Grand Rapids, Michigan home.
It’s 8:56 am on a Sunday morning. My GPS is telling me it’s time to turn left, but I have the sudden urge to keep driving. If I were to keep driving, though, I know I’d be stuck with the same guilty feeling that’s been plaguing me for months. I make myself turn in and park and face the moment I’ve been dreading: walking into a new church for the first time.
Ever since moving back to Grand Rapids, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I am excited to find a new church. “It’ll be a chance to get plugged in and find new community!” I’ve been telling myself. But I’ve put it off for as long as possible, avoiding even the virtual services I could have watched from the comfort of my own bed. I’ve found a reason each and every Sunday not to go to church, quietly pushing down the guilt that rose up inside of me for not wanting to go.
I already did the whole “church shopping” thing back in college: there was the charismatic church where I was prophesied over, the Lutheran church that refused me communion because I wasn’t Lutheran, and the crazy church that said the rapture was happening next week so you better hurry up and tell all your friends about Jesus (this was seven years ago, so unless we’re all part of the left behind, I think they were a little off). Eventually, I settled into a semi-home church where I felt challenged to love God and to love my neighbor, but I was unengaged—always showing up late and sitting in the back row.
I used to be so motivated to show up to church every week. Growing up, I was the one making sure my family never missed a Sunday. I was at church every time the doors were open: I was there Tuesdays after school and Wednesdays for youth group. I signed up for the worship band and the drama team and the Christmas plays and the missions trips. Most of the time, I was just eager for any opportunity to hang out with my friends, but there was also this part of me that thought being in church consistently was what made me a good Christian.
Somewhere over the last few years, I’ve lost that desire to keep showing up to church. I’ve seen behind the curtain and watched how people use words like “God’s plan for my life” as a way to justify their own selfish interests. I’ve watched how politics has taken precedence over loving your neighbor. I’ve seen the damage of purity culture and paternalistic ways of helping others. I’ve heard of people being told their disability and mental illness are because they lack faith. I’ve seen how sexism and racism have infected the church and all of us who are part of it.
These are all the things I carry with me when I walk into a new church. The guilt I feel from failing to show up on Sundays collides with the cynicism I feel towards the church as a whole. The “you belong here” welcome packets and connection cards handed to fresh faces feel insufficient in the face of everything people walk in here carrying.
For some reason, though, I can’t quite bring myself to give up on all of this yet. Maybe it isn’t just guilt I feel on Sunday mornings, but a soft tug inside telling me it’s worth it to show up. I know that real belonging, mercy, and grace are possible here. And so for now, I’ll keep showing up.