‘No place for me’ in the pews on Sunday

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John W. Fountain writes often about the church. | Sun-Times file photo

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from John Fountain’s book: “No Place For Me: Letters To The Church In America.”

I mount my motorcycle some Sunday mornings, bound in the wind and sunshine for coffee and fellowship at a south suburban café. No longer am I a slave to migraines since I stopped regularly attending church 13 years ago.

Slowly I began slipping away — first, a Sunday here and there. I stopped attending Bible study. Sunday School. Eventually, Sundays became days to sleep in or to sit and sip a cup of coffee.


Either was preferable to the weekly hemorrhaging in the pew that Sundays at church had become, or listening to Buffalo fish-sermons, prosperity preaching, political spiels from visiting candidates, or hype-’em-up whooping and hollering, half-sung homilies.

I say “Buffalo fish-sermons” because the tasty, flaky white fish is filled with so many bones that the requisite sifting make the meat, for me, not worth the while, and safer to avoid altogether. I had also come to believe that many churches prefer their men to be spineless and speechless with regard to raising criticisms.

Although raised a church boy, by the time I stopped attending regularly in 2005, I was sick of church, literally. Toward the end, I would catch a Sunday migraine that lasted for about a week then returned once Sunday rolled around again. At my worst, I felt like I needed a good shot of rum or whiskey to go to church.

I was dying, hemorrhaging in the pew, my mind drifting in and out of consciousness and my soul longing for rescue from the agony of enduring another church service that neither fed me nor filled me. It sucked the life out of me with dogma, irrelevant sermons filled with feminized metaphors and the recital of canned “church-isms.”

By the time of my departure from the Sunday ritual, it was clear that attending church served little practical purpose for my life. Clear that my money, along with my silent, attendance was what a pastor really wanted, along with mine and my wife and children’s bodies occupying spots in the pews. I felt like a piece of meat. I felt used, overlooked, insignificant…

And I felt marginalized in a world where, even at small churches, there is too often no role for men who are not preachers, pastors, and deacons or in the choir, and absolutely no room for bucking the status quo. Even when the status quo goes contrary to the Word of God, or the pastor or the church have gone south of the Gospel.

I felt like the focus — of time, tithes and talents, and of our collective energies — were too often misguided and leadership shortsighted.

In my mind, the focus was more on raising money than on saving souls. On meetings and national conventions and anniversary celebrations. On Men’s Days and Women’s Days. On teas and banquets. On buying new choir robes.

On spending more time and energy deciding the important stuff, like what would be the designated color theme for the clothes everyone was to wear for the pastor’s anniversary celebration, and little to no time on helping the poor and needy or on evangelism.

I was convinced that Jesus himself, scraggly bearded and not adorned with the scent of Dolce & Gabbana, or wearing a designer suit and gators, would not be welcome in the pews, let alone the pulpit.

…And in the church I once loved, I felt no place for me. So I departed.

Today I am a recovering church-aholic.

And yet, after all this time, I can still feel His presence.

Even as I roll on my motorcycle in the morning air on Sundays, on my way to fellowship and coffee.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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