Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Church

I was talking to a friend last week about going to church, and he was saying that his wife is interested in finding another church than the faith she was raised.  He was saying he doesn't particularly care to go to church at all, and I suggested he just stay home like thousands of men across America do, and let his wife do the churching for the both of them.

I say this, in all seriousness, because it is how we do things in our household.  Mark comes to church with me sometimes, but often, I go alone.  Frankly, I prefer to go alone.  It's me-time.  I've been going to church alone since high school, when my parents told me I could stop and I said, "no thanks, I'll keep going."  I've always assumed that, like my family, I will take our children to Sunday school and Mark will stay at home and do the laundry (much like now) or do the dishes.  (I don't go to church just to get out of doing housework, but it's a bonus.)  Growing up, I went to church or Sunday school with my mom and my sister and my Dad stayed home and made lunch for us and my grandparents, who often came over after church for lunch.

Anyway, my friend said that his wife gets annoyed by the women-at-church family dynamic, and she doesn't want to be one of those women who goes to church alone or with the kids.  I can understand this perspective, I suppose, but it seems to me that if only one person in a relationship enjoys an activity, and the other does it, only the person who enjoys it should do it.  However, there are people who view church not as enjoyable, but as an obligation.  This makes church much more like dinner with the in-laws, and therefore it seems more fair that both partners should have to suffer through. Let's review that I'm a Unitarian, and our sermons are fun, do not make you feel guilty, and there is no communion or anything else to make a person who doesn't "belong" feel awkward.  So if you feel differently about church, please share in the comments!  I'm very curious about the churchgoing activities and desires of others.

As we've been married, I don't go to church as often as I would like, but this is mostly because in the winter months, my churchgoing gets replaced by the Church of Hockey.  I have women's leagues games on Sunday, often around the same time as the only service at my church here in Baltimore.  I also still don't really feel at home here in Baltimore.  The church is just different.  My lack of churchgoing has nothing to do with my husband not supporting my churchgoing, or anything but my own busyness or laziness.  All of that will be changing pretty soon though, because my sister bought a house.

My sister bought a house that is about a mile from my home church.  My home church, where I still feel like I belong.  My home church, which has 9am and 10:45am services.  My home church, which is about 3 miles from my parents house.  My home church, that my grandmother goes to.  My home church, where I know the ministers and the Sunday School teachers and the kids I grew up with.  So what better excuse could there be for returning to my home church than to get to go to church (hopefully with my Mom) and then having lunch with (or watch Redskins games with) my big sister and my Mom?  I'm obviously really excited about this plan, and I don't mind telling you: it never even occurred to me that Mark might want to come with me.  I assume he'll either come down and hang out with my BIL, or stay home and do the laundry.  (Last Friday, I overloaded the washer and also melted the detergent cup.  Then the dryer didn't dry everything properly and it got left for the weekend because I didn't notice.  I am not going to be encouraged to do the laundry ever again.)

I feel like it would be easy to look at this dynamic and say that church is for women, and women go to church and get mad at their husbands for not going; but I think for a lot of women, church creates an opportunity to build communities with other women.  I think that some women, like me, relish the space that church creates for them; but other women, like my friend, worry about being forced into a gender role or gender-based dynamic that they aren't comfortable with.  But the question remains: how do we fight stereotypes when one of us really doesn't want to do something?  Do you suck it up and spend an hour a week at church because it matters to your partner?  Do you use church as a negotiating tactic or bargaining chip?  Or do you just go it alone, or with other members of your own family/faith community, like I do?


  1. This is such an interesting post. I think Monday marriage matters is my favorite feature of your blog.
    I am Mennonite and have attended church since birth, basically. I went through a few years of college w/o attending church, really, but by senior year I regularly attended. As soon as we moved to Denver, we found a Mennonite church. We attend (almost) every Sunday, unless we are too tired/lazy to get out of bed. I have never experienced the "women go to church and men stay home" phenomenon. Growing up, we went to church as a family. It was never questioned, we all went. My parents were both very involved, and we only missed church if we were out of town. My husband and I attend church together, too. I wonder how I'd feel if he'd told me he didn't like going to church and wanted to stop. I like to think that I would respect his feelings, but since attending church as a family has been so much a part of my life it would be tough.

    I do think that when it comes to church, one should not be forced to attend if they don't want to/have serious theological differences/feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. To me, church is about being part of a community and a sense of renewal to face the week. I wouldn't want a grumpy, unhappy partner at my side during that experience.

  2. I go to church by myself, mostly because I am a devout Catholic and because Brian doesn't strongly believe in anything.

    My dad remembers that growing up his mother was very very religious, and therefore the entire family was religious. After she passed away in 1966, my grandfather became more religious as a way to remember her. I think that's sweet.

    Also, people say that whatever the faith of the mother is is what the faith of the children will be. I think it's just a way of saying that in most households mothers are who has time to add religious education to the docket. I don't know if it's true, it certainly wasn't true in my household since I am the faith of my dad and not at all of my mom, but I can see where people get that.

  3. My fiance and I are actually the opposite; he's the religious one and I'm not. He used to attend church pretty regularly (a Sunday evening YA service), but has stopped in recent years because his beliefs have begun to differ. He's expressed interest in finding a new church (one that I'd feel comfortable going to, as his old church was FAR too conservative for me), but we haven't made much effort to do so. I've already told him many times that I am not a church every Sunday person, and to not expect that of me. That being said, if he told me tomorrow that he wanted to go again, he knows that he'd have to go most often by himself.

  4. My ex-boyfriend was catholic, and his family attended church regularly. I am an atheist, who respects the beliefs of others as long as they respect what I believe. He put a lot of pressure on me to go to church, and that was not something I was comfortable with; it definitely put a rift in our relationship.

    I am lucky that my current husband is also an atheist so we don't have too much an a problem. His parents like to go to church on occasion, and my husband has made it clear that he will attend on Christmas Eve ONLY and I can go with them if I want--it's completely up to me, and I shouldn't go if I don't want to. I appreciate him leaving it up to me and we would have major problems if he tried to pressure me to attend chuch.

  5. We're the opposite. My hubs and I were raised Catholic & while I've strayed away, he remains devout. He goes to church often by himself. I only join him on holidays. Growing up, my Dad took us to church while my non-Catholic Mom stayed home. I imagine my children will experience much of the same with my hubs & we're okay with that. Thankfully, the fact that I don't attend doesn't cause any problems now, I hope it doesn't when there are kids in the mix. I know it can be tough for many couples!

  6. The only way I'd have an issue with it is if the children decided his way was better because he stayed home and drank beer while I dressed up and went to church. That's how I felt as a kid, and it just kinda makes it unequal.

    I know I'm being five years old about it. :)

  7. Yay UUs! My religious upbringing was complicated, to say the least (parents of two Christian denominations, so my sisters and I went to both churches every weekend, in addition to RE classes at both, church choir practices, etc.) But in college I stumbled across the UUs via a friend, and conveniently, my wife was raised UU. We haven't gotten involved in a church here, mostly because it takes 30-60 minutes to get to the nearest UU church and we're a little lazy on Sunday mornings. But we've definitely talked about making it a priority to join a church if/when we move. It's a bigger priority for me than it is for her, but she's totally supportive, just not willing to lead the charge.

    For me, it would feel weird if only one of us went to church while the other stayed home, but honestly, that's probably because it's just not our style. Outside of work and occasionally socializing with separate friends, we do pretty much everything together. Grocery shopping, errands, cooking, cleaning--all of those are things we do together. I think it would be really strange for religion to be the one thing we did separately. But of course my parents sort of do religion separately (my mom still frequently attends church with my dad and then goes to her church alone, though he joins her sometimes...again, it's complicated) and it works for them!

  8. Wow, this issue never even occurred to me. I don't do religion, and Daniel doesn't really either (he's Jewish but mostly just culturally).

    I'm curious, people who do both go to church (or temple, etc.), did you switch so you could go to the same one?