I was raised in a Catholic household but resigned from church at the age of 25 – mostly because of an unwillingness to pay the mandatory(!) church tax in Germany. But the truth is: mentally and especially emotionally, I resigned at the age of about 9, shortly after my First Communion. How did that happen?
It was the very first service I attended after the official ceremony of First Communion. Contrary to Protestant services, with the Catholic church, the receiving of the altar bread happens every time shortly before the end of the service. So, all the people queue up in front of the altar until they are up front to receive the host from the hands of the Priest. You´re supposed to hold your hands in certain kind of way, putting them together to form a “throne” for (the symbol of) Christ – which basically means you´re supposed to put your right hand in the left (or the other way around…frankly, I do not remember). But obviously, on that day, I did it the wrong way.
It´s been almost 27 years ago, but I can still remember vividly how the Priest looked at me as if I had just deliberately peed in the altar wine. He violently pulled my hands apart and squeezed them back together in the “right” fashion. All that obviously happened in front of the whole congregation – which left me deeply ashamed.
I guess in that moment, I decided (at least preconsciously) that church is a dangerous, cruel, or at best – strange place. I opted out (against the will of my mother…) of all the other rites of passage (e.g. the “Confirmation”) and have not attended a service any more (except for friends´ weddings, and Christmas once in a while). Of course it may have been an overreaction to banish the church from my life altogether because of that single incident. But that is what little kids do – if it hurts bad enough.
Most fortunately, three weeks ago, I had a completely different experience. It was the Christening of my wife´s godchild at a Protestant church. It´s really hard right now to have our son Mika (16 months old) sit still for more than 10 seconds a time – so we were a little worried he would disturb the service. When we all sat down I placed him on my lap and hugged him tight. But of course, after a couple of seconds, he was wrestling to get free. So I let him stand up and within a few seconds, he had walked up to the Pastor.
I fully expected to be reprimanded or at least to get a shaking of the head or something like that. Instead, something totally different happened. The Pastor exclaimed:
“Let the children run free. That is God´s greatest joy.”
And for the remainder of the service, Mika walked around mostly quietly, smiling at people, examining the church. What a difference that made. I was so relieved. And so happy…
Still, I´m not ready to join a congregation again – but that man (at least partly…) restored my faith in “the Church” as an institution.