Therese said, ”Before my parents could get married in the church, my father had to sign a paper giving up all his rights to teach us children about his religious heritage; and the Catholic Church insisted my parents raise me as Catholic.”
This was during Vatican II Reforms. “It was an interesting time,” Therese said. “A lot of good things came out of Vatican II, but it started a lot of infighting in the church and I became alienated as a result.“
After Vatican II prohibition against taking part in non-Catholic services remained but was not strictly enforced. I took advantage of that freedom to see if the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.”
This was no trivial matter for Therese. She said, “In strict Catholic eyes I’ve committed one of the most serious sins, apostasy; and I have done it knowingly and willingly, which makes it worse. If the Church is right, and I’m wrong, I’ve forfeited hope of eternal salvation unless I repent and return to it.”
After leaving the Catholic Church Therese went on a spiritual journey exploring other denominations. She spent much time alone, trying to figure out what she did or didn’t believe.
Three years in an evangelical church wasn’t a good fit for her. “I stayed because people were friendly, but I felt I was living a lie,” she said.
“Gradually I realized I no longer believed things other people wanted me to believe about God,” she said. “I had too many questions and no answers. In Fat Cat Books in Paw Paw one day Henry Flandysz’s book, The Making of a Heretic: How the World Ruined a Good Catholic Boy, caught my eye. It was about his journey from Catholicism to Unitarian Universalism. He mentioned People’s Church; and there were many similarities between his story and mine. I said to myself, ‘Maybe it’s time to check out that different church across the highway after all.’
People’s Church’s current structure was built when Therese was growing up a mile from the building.
“The neighbors didn’t know what to make of it,” Therese said, “It seemed pretty radical and countercultural, unlike any church they were familiar with.”
At People’s, Therese doesn’t have to ‘fake it’ concerning beliefs.
“I’m treated like an adult and my ability to reason and make decisions is respected,” she said. “I don’t have to leave essential parts of me at the door.”
Therese would like to see a support group for people who live alone.
“I don’t mean a singles dating group,” she said. “It could be a group where individuals find support for challenges of a life alone. For example, what do you write down when you go to the doctor and they ask you whom to contact in an emergency? My nearest relative is 200 miles away and doesn’t drive. Such a group could help folks deal with loneliness during holidays and help people who have recently lost partners and are having trouble dealing with the transition to life alone.”
(Therese, 58, is employed at MPI Research in Mattawan where she enters and arranges data on computers. She lives with two spoiled cats.)