I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious family, my dad is an atheist and my Mum and her side of the family are somewhat Christian but by no means did they go to Church every Sunday. Being a kid I just accepted that God was a real person, that he created the World and Jesus died for us – kids didn’t really question things back then. The only time I really went to Church was through play, first and middle school. I did sing the hymns in assembly, I did celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ through Christmas and Easter, I think in some way I did believe in Christian teachings.
That all changed when I was a teenager.
In my first year of Secondary school (I was around 12 or 13) I started going to a youth club at a local church as my friend’s sister and her husband were youth leaders there. It started out as a great place to meet new friends, play games, see my current friends every week and even go on day trips with the club – was nice to have a place to be a kid outside of the pressures of school. I went there religiously (no pun intended) every single Friday night after school, me and my friends loved it so much that we used to go round each other’s houses after school and get dressed up to go (must have thought we were going to the Ritz, not some small youth club in our town). For the first year and a half it was a great escape, it also gave me the opportunity to go on little holidays away with friends which my Mum couldn’t have afforded to take me to on her own.
When I was 14 some of the youth leaders we loved left and others became the youth leaders who took their place and completely changed the way the club was run. My little sanctuary became a place that I felt ostracised, bullied by adults and made to question every part of who I was. The club was always somewhat religious, it was set up in the hall next to a church and there was always a prayer at the end of the night.. but it was never shoved down our necks, there was more of a choice to join in on the religious aspects back then. As time went on, some of my friends started turning to faith as the youth leaders were having one-on-one talks with them, they started going to the church events outside of the youth club and even went with some of the youth leaders to hand out flyers about the Evangelical Christian faith in busy shopping areas. I started to feel even more left out after everyone went to a Christian Festival called Soul Survivor and I stayed home as I felt I couldn’t go. This prompted me to start going to Church on a Sunday with the rest of my friends when they came back even though I hated going, I even borrowed my friend’s bible at the time to try convert myself.. I was just trying to force myself to not be left out and to be accepted by these people.
Somehow, the leaders just couldn’t get through to me about joining the faith too, this is when I started realising I can be very stubborn when it comes to my morals. Once I started speaking out about how I’m questioning my faith (if I ever really had it in the first place), they started to treat me different to the other kids… I always remember this one time we were all split into teams to play Sing Star, (the game on the PlayStation where you sing along to songs on the screen and get points for how well you did), I had a sudden burst of confidence and decided I wanted to play in the next round, but as soon as I got up there I got a bit of stage fright as I didn’t know the song and put the microphone down and explained that I couldn’t do it but someone can take my place. To any normal club that wouldn’t have been a problem, but to them it was like I was the she-devil, I ended up leaving the room as one of the youth leaders said quite loudly “How selfish!”. I was only a kid and a sensitive one at that, I didn’t deserve to feel bullied by apparent adults. As a 15 year old girl I was starting to discover crushes, puppy love and all that jazz, I also had my first boyfriend (who happened to go to this youth club too) at the time. We ended up chatting to one of the more extreme Christian youth leaders about why sex was deemed immoral outside of wedlock, he point blank stared me right in the eye as he knew I was the only one with a boyfriend at the time and said “Because you’ll go to hell if you do”. We were kids for Christ sake.. young, scared and confused kids who were worried about sex and relationships as it was, let alone being threatened with eternal damnation on top of it. Other uncomfortable situations happened through out my time at this youth club involving the youth leaders and even my peers, I already had bad self-esteem and I honestly think this contributed to the start of my disordered eating and body dysmorphic issues for the next 6-7 years.
I was 16 when I left the youth club, just before I started college. That Summer I ended up going to Soul Survivor with the club and it was actually a really good time as I got more friendly with some other girls who weren’t religious. We spent the whole time there like we were at a real music festival, we got our face painted every day, went to different music events and met loads of new people. The one rule we had was we had to go to congregation every night in the huge tent, which is fair enough as it was a Christian music festival.. but we ended up missing the gathering a few times as we didn’t want to be there so we didn’t want to ruin it for the others that were really into it. This last event with the youth club really solidified my reasoning for never going back, I was never going to be religious how they wanted me to be and I definitely had different morals to them.. I started to become a young adult too and instead of embracing it and having fun, I felt ashamed. It took me years to be comfortable with who I am again and I started to rebel a lot through college because of it.
I guess it’s sad in a way that one experience put me off of a whole religion, but I’ve done research into other religions like Buddhism, Wicca and Paganism and I just felt like I didn’t fit anywhere fully… I didn’t have a label, I was always just me. I don’t feel like I need that sort of faith anymore, I’m happy in my life without the constant pressure of having to be perfect for a religion I hardly believe in. If one day I have kids, I won’t raise them to be religious but the option will always be open to them, I hope to educate them enough that they know they have the choice to be who they were born to be.
I’m not saying all of Christianity is like this, I’ve talked to people who have had their life saved my faith and some parts of Christianity is more liberal too, as long as you are a good person and have faith, you have less limitations. It just simply wasn’t for me, I always considered myself to be more spiritual anyway. Everyone has to believe in something, some people believe in the power of nature, others the power of God or Gods/Goddesses. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, that the World can change for the better and I have faith in myself… I just don’t have faith in an omnipresent deity we call God.