A- A A+

The sad release of skipping church

1 Comment
Ryan Suckling |  17 April 2017


There came a time for me, as it does for many, when going to church was no longer obligatory. I suspect it's most common in those middle years of adolescence, when parents feel the need to loosen their hold over you, but with the blanket of judgement ever fixed.

Church pewsMy wane in piety was not unforeseen. Each Sunday morning, as my family was getting ready, I'd linger by the bathroom still in my pyjamas, wondering what to do or say. The plan was always to tentatively make everyone aware that I wasn't quite up for church-going that day. Of course, reactions varied.

On a good day, my mother would appear nonplussed, almost indifferent, preoccupied with attaching a dangly earring or putting on her makeup. She'd say, 'That's fine, you go back to bed and rest.' My heart would leap for joy. Not only did I dodge the three hours spent swaying to an old piano in a sticky hall; but the whole house was mine, a veritable bounty for doing what I wanted where I wanted.

She'd be happy to go with my father and two sisters, and tell me about the sermon when they got home. Sometimes she was even glad for me. 'Well it's a good job you didn't come today, they had that woman who shouts at the end of every sentence. I mean, I'd understand if she was shouting "hallelujah" or "amen", but no, she just builds up and up to a shout every time. Makes my ears hurt.'

At other times, she was curiously concerned about the state of my faith. Her worried face would turn from the mirror, and pouting her lips, she'd start to tease me. She kept calling me 'sleepy head' and 'my little heathen', poking my flabby arm with her long nails.

When it came to asserting the seriousness of my not wanting to go, she'd turn fretful and annoyed, toying with my future like it rested on that single Sunday morning. If forced to come, I'd have to get ready in a frantic ten minutes, spent mostly ironing a shirt. I'd sit in the car, feeling hard done by. She always pretended to act as if no coercion had occurred.

I found the journey nauseating as she played gospel house music. I think she found it energising, or at least agenda-setting. She'd gradually take on an air of spiritual grandiosity. Later, as she sipped from a foam cup of coffee after the service with her friends gathered around, she spoke of family or friends who had gone astray, detailing her efforts to keep them on the straight and narrow. Sometimes, I came up.

I remember one instance very well as it was just before the youngest sister of the family got married. I was wandering aimlessly, as I always did, through the clumps of people bowing their heads to catch conversation. Sometimes I stopped to indulge acquaintances of one type or another, but I preferred to circulate the foyer until my parents called me to leave.


"At night I would feverishly read my Bible, switching to the giant commentary book upon the slightest bit of doubt. Guilt played its part, but was by no means all-consuming. Ultimately, I felt I had missed out."


On this Sunday, I walked passed her little group hunched around a table, and heard her announce my reluctance to go to church and to the 'deeply connecting' array of Bible study groups. She didn't catch my glance, or pretended not to. It was a strange feeling — being put up for pious inspection. I'll never forget the image of her — purple beads strung around her neck to meet her lap, the flowing dress, and all the while making her earring bob up and down by stroking the back of her ear.

When she brought me to church I hated her. The hoards of people enmeshed to make me the outcast, broody and alone. And yet when I did get away with not going, I was alone still, watching TV or on the computer, killing the time I so desperately sought to gain. I remember taking up the most mundane tasks; clipping my nails over the sink, dusting the bookshelves in the study, rearranging the tins and spices in the pantry. When I finally heard the car drive up and the garage door open, my heart would leap for joy. Mum would then offer her analysis, and I would help her with lunch, as my sisters sniggered by the pool, and my dad read the Sunday paper, intermittently reading aloud the headlines nobody was interested to hear.

At night I would feverishly read my Bible, switching to the giant commentary book upon the slightest bit of doubt. Guilt played its part, compounded by my mother's sighs during the day, but was by no means all-consuming. Ultimately, I felt I had missed out. It was alienating, I see that now. The desire to question somehow harboured a desire to be left alone.

Most painful of all was saying goodnight. On the days I didn't go, she wouldn't come to my room; the ritual of saying goodnight and of asking what I was reading withdrawn. Naturally, I always assumed she was teaching me a lesson. I didn't consider that it might be painful for her too, painful to see her son drift and wander through the people looking utterly lost.


Ryan SucklingRyan Suckling is a Perth student and film editor at Pelican Magazine.


Ryan Suckling


Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

The devil is in the details, the details being two things a church can contribute to a situation like this: a service of sensible length and the fact that the go-to person for the kid should have been his hospitable pastor. A church is a clergy and laity which know the smell of each other.

Roy Chen Yee 21 April 2017

Similar articles

Discerning the place for the churches in the great moral questions of the age

Frank Brennan | 27 November 2015

'The crisis of child sexual abuse in our societies has required that our institutional procedures be more transparent and that we learn from the ways of the world in exercising power openly and justly. This means we have to restructure some of our church arrangements so that power is exercised accountably and transparently. All of us who have positions of influence and power in institutional churches need to be attentive to the voices of those who have suffered within our institutions.' 'Discerning the place for the prophetic voice and pragmatic cooperation of the churches in the great moral questions of the age', address to the Association of Practical Theology in Oceania conference, 26 November 2015.

Atheist Pratchett's Discworld has lessons for Christians

Michael McVeigh | 16 March 2015

'You can't go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world. Otherwise it's just a cage.'

When I heard English author Terry Pratchett had died, I immediately jumped online to start looking through some of my favourite quotes from his books. The above, from Witches Abroad, is one of many that have accompanied me over the years.  

His 44 Discworld novels could be broadly described as comic fantasy, or fantasy satire, and yet that's really just the starting point for the immense variety of complicated ideas they explored in such a fun, joyous way.

Perhaps strangely for someone whose work is so grounded in atheism, Pratchett has had a profound impact on my religious faith. Read more

The preferential option for the poor

1 Comment
Frank Brennan | 23 July 2014

'Rohan provides a detailed and accurate analysis and history of the word games that have gone on between the Vatican and the Latin American bishops and theologians wrestling with the concept of the preferential option for the poor.' Frank Brennan launches The Preferential Option for the Poor: A Short History and a Reading Based on the Thought of Bernard Lonergan, by Rohan Michael Curnow. 

Why Bishop Morris was sacked

Frank Brennan | 24 June 2014

Illustration of Benedict and Bishop Morris'My one new insight from reading Bill's book is that he was sacked because he was too much a team player with his local church ... the Romans hoped to shatter the morale and direction of those who had planned the pastoral strategies of a country diocese stretched to the limits as a Eucharistic community soon to be deprived of priests in the Roman mould.' Frank Brennan launches Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three by Bishop William Morris.

The past, present and future of the Easter Rising 1916

Frank Brennan | 02 May 2016