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  • Writer's picturecatherinehwicker

When I was 15 I walked out of a Church…It saved my faith

When you preach about loving one's neighbor in times of hardship, it is crucial to recognize who is sitting in the pew. The church I loved, which had shown love to my family when my father was sick, failed me in my time of need. My neighbor, a long-term member of the church, lived her faith every single day through her actions. So when I was failed by the same church, I didn't know what to do.

I was 15, recovering from major back surgery, and wanted to know why—if this was God's supposed plan for me—what the reason was. Many people didn't know what to say, and their silence spoke louder than any prayer or simple phrase like "God has a plan for you." The most consistent people to check on me were my devoted atheist friends. At that moment, I knew I had to do something, so I got up and walked out during the pastor's sermon.

Today, I hear repeatedly that the church is losing young people. What I actually see is that churches have lost people in their pews because of stories like mine. If I hadn't left that church, I would have become bitter and resented a place that, until that moment at age 15, had been a significant part of my formative years in a positive way.

When I went to college, I joined a campus ministry where I discovered again what a church should truly look like: a pastor who believes no one is incapable of God's love, a free coffee shop where students and unhoused members of the community commune together, and a worship service where everyday people pray and come together. This church led me to my profession as an interfaith organizer, where I combined my faith and organizing experiences. It was here where I relearned how to pray and walk in my faith. This is the church where, years after graduating, the pastor and friends I made showed up for me in the hospital while my mother prayed for my recovery from surgery. That is what God's love looks like at its best.

If the church wants to bring more young people back, we must recognize where we went wrong, acknowledge the hurt we caused, and be willing to discuss what we need to do to be more inclusive. We need to apologize for the hurt, stop continuing to hurt marginalized communities, and genuinely welcome them. Many of my friends are spiritual, but they see how God has been weaponized in the name of bad politics time and time again, and they ask me where in worship is God not being misused. Even when I left my church, my faith remained a core part of who I was; I did not lose that. What was lost was my attendance in a pew. A deep faith within any faith can be seen not in the attendance of a service, but through the actions and life lived by a person. That is what I learned during the three years I didn't attend church.


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