This past Sunday we went out for breakfast and found our favorite local diner crowded with after-church families. In Green Bay, WI the number of patrons reflects the times of church services and football games. If you don’t attend either, you feel out of step with a powerful community rhythm.
My husband and I are not religious and we have never attended church as a family. My parents were staunch secularists: I was never baptized. My parents, both civil rights activists and later educators, were deeply ethical, principled people. Even divorced, they treated each other with respect and focused on our well-being. My mother is still alive -- happily remarried - and remains committed to social justice. When my father found out he was dying, he did not seek any religious or spiritual comfort. He accepted his diagnosis, spent as much time as possible with his children, relished his simple pleasures, and died peacefully.
I was raised with strong, consistent values: treat others, particularly those who are suffering, with kindness, take responsibility for those who are vulnerable, and value community over individual gain. Over the years I have been struck, even offended, when acquaintances voice their assumption that participation is organized religion is necessary to raise moral, grounded children.
My parents were not hostile to religion and readily allowed me to attend several different churches with childhood friends: Episcopalian, Greek orthodox and Catholic. While I enjoyed the pageantry and red eggs at the Greek Orthodox Easter, the services evoked no particular response in me.
Our daughter is still making her mind up about god. Her best friend attended a Catholic kindergarten and has proselytized to her. "God is real, mom," our daughter says, "He's in your heart." Maybe so.
I have no objection to our daughter attending services with friends and exploring her own religious questions. After all, even a non-believer can see the value of religious faith and church can provide a sense of tradition and ritual and a sense of shared values.
But I've also wondered if it might be possible to create a non-religious gathering, a secular Sunday, if you will. A place to gather and affirm what we hold dear, pause to honor our commitments, and recognize that we are all part of a community.