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Threat of fire and brimstone isn't easy to shake off

September 16, 2008 - Kelly Valeri
For the first time in my life, I’ve been attending church on occasion.

As a child, religion wasn’t really on my radar. Some of my friends would talk about going to Sunday school or attending Mass with their families, but I didn’t understand any of it until I found myself tagging along once after a sleepover.

I remember it vividly. I was in the fourth grade, and it was the morning after my friend Carrie’s birthday party. Somehow, my parents had miscommunicated about which of them was supposed to pick me up, so I sat waiting on my sleeping bag near the door much longer than anyone had intended.

There I was, wearing last night’s T-shirt, complete with a gigantic smudge of hot fudge, being told I would have to go to church with Carrie’s family. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a clean shirt, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a pew wondering what the heck was going on around me.

I didn’t mind the singing so much, but it seemed too whisper quiet the rest of the time. Eventually, Carrie let me know that she would be going to the front to get some bread. Curious, I asked her to bring it back so I could see what it looked like.

“You can’t have any, or you’ll go to hell,” she told me.

Needless to say, a statement like that sort of sticks with a kid. For a long time, I associated church with someplace I didn’t want to be.

Then I met my husband.

We clicked right from the beginning. Within a few months, I had watched more football than I had in my entire life combined, and he found himself sitting through a new episode of “Sex and the City” every weekend.

We wanted to be together so much that we took up each other’s interests. For me, that also included attending church with his family on occasion.

Much to my relief, it wasn’t anything like my first experience. Even though I felt out of my element, there was something inviting and personal about it. Now, years later, with a wedding behind us and a child between us, we’re making an effort as a family to attend more regularly on our daughter’s behalf.

But even though I’ve grown accustomed to the Sunday sermons and don’t feel quite so out of place, the rituals sometimes still throw me for a loop.

Last week was my first time attending a communal service. And when the plate came around, I panicked. Suddenly I reverted to that little girl in a borrowed T-shirt thinking that I was unworthy of participating. Or somehow not allowed.

So I politely declined. In retrospect, it probably sounded a lot like, “No thank you, I don’t much care for peas.”

The strange thing is, I consider myself to be a very confident, outgoing person who feels comfortable in almost any setting. I’m just at ease in a baseball stadium screaming to get a hot dog vendor’s attention as I am being introduced to a governor at a black-tie event — a situation I found myself in after landing my first reporting job.

So I know it’s all in my head. The pastor and the congregation have been nothing but genuinely accepting of me. I guess it’s just going to take a little more time before I’m truly comfortable.

But I have faith that it will happen eventually.


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