Smoking Outside the Church

I graduated from high school in 2016 and quickly fell into a period of apathy and stagnation. That period extended to August of 2018 when I found a pre-employment class in my city. I went to it for three weeks, and after it finished, I felt a little lost as to what to do. I had gotten so used to the routine that being thrown back into a situation in which I had no responsibilities disturbed me.

 Trying something new was terrifying to me. However, after the class finished, and the world remained standing, I decided to try something else that scared me. I decided to attend a church service for the first time in my life. 

Growing up in the atheist family that I had, this certainly wasn’t part of my usual routine.

I knew what I wanted. I wanted something more traditional, a church that felt old. I also wanted to find a denomination that was accepting of the LGBT community. The answer seemed obvious, so I quickly hunted down the nearest Anglican church. 

On a Sunday in late September, I stood outside pacing. I was texting an online friend, questions running through my mind: What do I do? Do I just walk in? Where do I sit? Should I walk in super early? Should I walk in closer to the start time? Will there be any people from the earlier service I need to worry about? Will they look at me funny?

I walked into the convenience store, bought a pack of cigarettes, and smoked one outside the church. A week before that, I had sworn I’d quit, and now the idea of sitting in front of God caused me to purchase another pack. I sat in the very back pew reeking of cigarette smoke. It’s almost funny to remember.

Before that day, I didn’t know what churchgoers did. Once I learned their ways, I knew I wanted more of it. The second I left I planned on returning the week after. And so I did. Every week I sat down in a different pew, slightly further up than the last, until eventually, I had a pew to myself that I sat in weekly.

I fell in love with going to church. Suddenly, I had something to guide me, as well as something to quiet the mind. Not only that, but the services were structured, comfortingly routine. Each one had a rhythm to it, a pattern. Each marked a different time of year.

Life was no longer passing me by as it had when I was in the clutches of my depression. I was remembering holidays and thinking about the significance of them. All Saints’ Day rolled around and I sat in a pew thinking about the inevitability of death, remembering those that have passed on, and thinking about my own demise. I noticed this didn’t depress me. I noticed that I wanted to be a part of my own life, I noticed I wanted to change it for the better.

Advent came and hope grew in my heart. In the darkness, I soaked myself in the tiny spark of light that was growing in my chest. The world had slowed down significantly, my body was moving in rhythms, my mind was grounded in the passage of time and the changes in the earth. My heart beat faster as I joined the congregation in singing old hymns in the small church. 

I sit and stand in time, I bow my head and pray, I turn the pages, I speak the words and copy the actions. I do not know if this God is out there, but surely something has happened to me. I know that much.

Change is inevitable. Worries about work, money, and the future can bear down on me. But there is one certainty I have in life now. Every Sunday morning I am welcomed into the church. I start by singing and I end by singing, and I receive a blessing in between. Every Sunday I am reminded that I am here and that I matter, and that life is moving along. For the first time in a long time, I am moving with it.

Hannah Rock
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