I joined a church about a year ago, which surprised me because I’ve been an outspoken atheist since I was twelve-years-old.
But a year ago, I had a baby, postpartum depression, and one local friend. Today, I have a toddler, I’m thriving, and have a whole community of women looking out for me.
My husband and I live far from family. When I had my baby, the only person to visit us was my doula. Being an introvert, I didn’t mind too much. But when a friend dropped off a meal for me without saying hello, I burst into tears.
I thought all I needed was my husband and child, but I was wrong. I needed female companionship. It was something I longed for, especially as a homemaker with a baby.
I Joined a Bible Study
That fall that I joined my first Bible study, a group of young moms. I was excited, but also terrified.
I sat in the large group that first day, the mountains just visible over the trees through the window. A goodie bag of brightly colored soaps and ribbons sat in front of me as I waited for my turn to speak and introduce myself.
I was worried about being found out as an atheist. Not only was I an atheist, but I’d never even read the Bible. What was I doing there?
A voice inside told me to join the Bible study. Later, I learned it was something like the Holy Spirit, something that urged me to be a part of that community.
As I introduced myself to the ladies, getting a chorus of “awws” when I talked about my baby, all the women were strangers. I tried in vain to remember everyone’s name after that first day, beating myself up that I was having so much trouble.
I wish I’d given myself more grace because those beautiful strangers would soon become dear friends, friends who would teach me so much about grace. In the last year, I’ve learned so much from these women about friendship and generosity, and I can safely say I now know everyone’s name.
While all my grandparents were devoted Christians, I grew up in a secular household. We didn’t go to church. We also didn’t talk to our neighbors.
In fact, if a neighbor ever came close to the door, we’d turn off the lights and pretend we weren’t home. (I wish I was joking.) Consequently, I grew up never understanding the concept of community.
The women in my Bible study have taught me what friendship and community are. Friendship is tied to something bigger, not just the feeling of the moment. This is a group of women who take care of each other. They are not afraid to ask for help and offer it readily.
The women think about each other when we aren’t in the room. We pray for one another, send texts to check up, drop by with gifts, offer donations, and lead meal trains.
The friendships in my Bible study are the building blocks of the community. Community is a group of people who share the same values and depend on each other.
Community is bolstered by seeing each other regularly, every Sunday at service and throughout the week for Bible study and playdates. It’s through this regular interaction that the community builds attachments.
But attachment alone isn’t a good basis for a community. In college, “the smokers” were all very attached, but it appeared that what the only thing they shared was that they were thrown together often while they smoked together outside.
A good community is founded on virtue. The church is a wonderful place to cultivate virtue. They preach for acceptance, kindness, grace, integrity, and perhaps above all else generosity.
In the secular world, there were precious few opportunities to give to others. While many atheists may donate to charity, generosity isn’t a part of the culture.
It’s rare to even find someone who is willing to offer or seek advice. With the internet, it’s no longer necessary to ask a friend how to start a lawnmower, you can just watch a YouTube video.
For many things, this is more efficient, but a Google search won’t give you a sense of belonging.
Secular people value independence and self-sufficiency but, as I discovered as a new mom, we are dependent on others.
Christians, on the other hand, value community. They are always looking for ways to serve and give, and their generosity is contagious.
When someone is generous with you, you want to be generous with them. Over the last year, I’ve gotten excited about giving to others.
Here are some examples of the way Christians give:
- Monthly food drives
- Meal trains for new mamas
- Giving Thanksgiving dinner to the victims of the Paradise fires
- Races to raise money for the needy
- Monthly church cleanups
- Community cleanups
- Community tree planting
- Giving of tithe
- Clothes donations
- Prayer and emotional support
The list could go on and on. Through being a part of the church over the last year, I’ve seen more opportunities to give and receive generosity than I have in my entire life. Through all this generosity, I’ve learned it is good for the soul and a natural part of being human.
Finally, from going to church I’ve learned to pray. I’m still learning, but prayer is an activity that I now particularly cherish. Sermons are weekly lectures on virtue, and prayer is the meditation on virtue and healing.
In our community group, we pray for one another. Asking for a prayer request, you share your troubles. I used to think this was dangerous, why would you show your flaws in such a way? But I’ve come to see how freeing it is to be so vulnerable. To both hear the troubles of the other women and to share my own.
Reading the Bible, learning to be vulnerable, and being a part of a truly generous and accepting community has been so wonderful. Going to church has given me confidence.
I’m also grateful that they accept me in spite of not being a believer. Just last week in church, our pastor reiterated that atheists are welcome and loved. I almost burst into tears on the spot.
It feels strange that the church feels like another home to me now, but it has been a beautiful blessing to me and my family. And I still have so much to learn.