I knew I was under dressed the moment I walked into the narthex of St. Paul’s Episcopal church on Meridian, mostly because I was walking into a narthex. Those were things I read about in art history class and visited in Rome as a tourist. I’d never gone into a church like that with the intent to worship.
If my Chuck Taylors and jeans didn’t give my newbie status away, the fact that I had no idea what I was doing during the service did. In the churches I grew up in we stood for a few songs accompanied by drums and guitars, and then sat for the rest of the service, including communion.
Here there was standing, and group reading, and sitting, and chanting, and standing, and singing, and then kneeling (I’d never knelt in a church in my life and accidentally sat down), then standing, and then filing up front for communion, then back to our seats, and then a group reading of the Crucifixion which, embarrassingly, made me cry. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and hoped no one noticed.
While I’m not known for keeping my shit together at church, I was, to be fair, a little extra emotional at the beginning of Holy Week. The passing of the recent “Religious Freedom” bill in my home state of Indiana had left me exhausted and defeated and fiercely proud at the same time. It seemed like everyone I knew had emailed and called the governor urging him to veto the bill, people who had never contacted a politician in their lives. It really must have been everyone I knew, because the governor finally refused to answer his phone and turned off his voice mail service. A disgruntled-sounding receptionist instructed Hoosiers trying to contact Mike Pence via voice mail to “try your call again at a different time”.
A different time. Ok.
Then the bill was signed. Don’t get me wrong – I think the intentions of the people signing the bill were centered around exclusion, no matter what the said later to try to mitigate the (astoundingly broad) damage. The new law itself was awful.
The resulting shitstorm it created, however, was magnificent. Religious? Agnostic? Wealthy? Poor? Conservative? Liberal? Gay? Straight? Hoosier at home? Hoosier abroad? Not a Hoosier at all? Doesn’t matter. Join the club entitled: We Hate This Fucking Law.
My facebook feed was flooded with friends debating the legal consequences, examining the impending financial losses to the state, or just venting their anger. The entire population of Indiana above age 12 was suddenly passionately interested in politics.
Almost the same day, churches and businesses began releasing official statements condemning the law, including a moving letter from the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis.
Which was how I came to be sitting in a pew in St. Paul’s with snot and mascara running down my face. They’re probably cool, was all the thought I put into going to church that day. (My spiritual life is that deep.)
Really, I think I wanted a space where I didn’t have to fight like I was fighting in the rest of the world. I (and, I suspect, a lot of my fellow Hoosiers) felt a little worn that Sunday and in need of some friendly company. I wanted rest.
And I got it. Actually, when people at St. Paul’s greet each other, they use the old, old words Peace be with you. And also with you.
It was a lesson in how little I knew of how other people practiced their faith, and an intensely uncomfortable experience. I plan on going back for Easter.