Our ways of worship: The scars of childhood church experiences

2011-04-23 20:24

I grew up Anglican, as did my siblings.

But after accompanying our father’s coffin to St Peter’s in Khayelitsha earlier this year, I doubt any of us will be crossing that particular threshold again soon.

Our father passed away still baffled by his daughters’ resistance to embracing the church they grew up in.

As a child I didn’t understand that I was there for spiritual fulfilment, only that I was one of the “poor” kids who got the marshmallow Easter egg and stale hot-cross bun while the pretty kids – in their flower-printed dresses with mums who wore hats and pantyhose – got the chocolate bunnies, fresh buns and pickled fish!

I was ashamed.

It felt like self-inflicted humiliation every Sunday. August 1993, the day of my mother’s funeral, was the last day – until recently – I set foot there.

Throughout the service, my resentment steadily grew into rage as the priest took pot shots at “people who don’t keep their tickets up-to-date”, a reference to the money the congregation paid every month ostensibly for the upkeep of the church and parish family.

You see, between the two of them my parents brought home just more than R1 000 every month, so could not afford the damn ticket every month.

And when my family went to tell the man of God about my mother’s passing, he ordered them to settle the outstanding amount before he would bury her.

I was disgusted.

Last year, a friend dragged me to her church in the Vaal.

The building was a tent, there were microphones and amplifiers, girls in jeans and miniskirts, singing with abandonment and people my age up at the pulpit.

After the two-hour service, I was awed.

I had never felt such a connection before, certainly not in my orthodox Anglican church with its high arches, droning hymns and thick incense. I felt guilty for feeling that way.

Still, the scars of my childhood church experiences haven’t faded. I hardly go to church because I’m ambivalent about houses of worship.

Ultimately, my altar is my bedroom – it’s where I express gratitude at the end of the day and ask to be the best I can be every morning.

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