When going to Church hurts

After Mass a few weeks ago, I encountered a parishioner who was feeling very hurt by the Church and specifically, a comment that made her feel unwelcome in the parish.

Her story made me recall many years ago when I was starting my career as a high school teacher.  I attended a small parish in the town where I was living and teaching. I was one of the few African Americans living in the town and it seemed like I was one of the only African American Catholics for hundreds of miles. Having said that, I never felt entirely welcome in the parish. I thought I was a fairly active member of the parish (Knights of Columbus and lector ministries were my favorites). Nonetheless, I often wondered if the pastor considered me a joy or an intrusion in his little church.

On leave – Not missing in action!

As a teacher, I often spent my summers traveling, visiting family and teaching at a summer program in another part of the country. So, though I attended Mass faithfully during the summer months, I rarely attended Mass in my parish of registration. Furthermore, I would inform the parish secretary of this each June and ask her not to schedule me as a lector until I returned in September. Year after year, she would accommodate my request in the spring and welcome me back to town warmly in the fall.

Well, one fall, I returned and was told that I would have to talk to the pastor in order to get back into the lector ministry. When I approached Father, he chastised me for my “sparse attendance at Mass.” Furthermore, he told me that I had no business on the altar if I did not bother to come to Mass regularly.

Judge not

Needless to say I was livid! Once I explained my circumstances, I think he understood and almost apologized. But, I was livid still. I told him, “What if I were sick, or lost my job and couldn’t come to church? Worse yet, what if I had actually lost faith as you suspected and did not find Mass important? As a pastor, couldn’t you have made a phone call before you removed me from the lector schedule?!”

Almost a lost sheep

I walked out and vowed never to return to that parish. Every Sunday, I drove an extra 15 miles to the next Catholic Church until I moved back to Washington a year later.  Furthermore, that is certainly not the only time in my life I have been hurt by the Church.

Now that I am older, wiser and more grounded in my faith, I wonder how many others have walked away not just from a parish but from the entire Catholic Church because of a negative experience such as the one I described. On the other end of the spectrum, I wonder about those who have experienced far worse than a judgmental pastor and how impossible healing may seem to some of them.

A step toward healing

Consider the following poem that was given to me a few years ago after a hurtful experience with our beloved Church. What do you think about it?

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then too — where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects.

And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough, I know better.”

– Carlo Carretto

17 Replies to “When going to Church hurts”

  1. I have never left the Church entirely because of a negative experience with a Pastor or someone else, but I have changed Parishes because of it. People need to remember that they don’t go to Church to worship the Pastor or another human being, they go to worship God. People run the Church and people make mistakes, but people aren’t the reason we go to Church, God is. Don’t let people separate you from God.

    1. I think the Devil uses these negative experiences to separate us from the Church. It is sadly an easy trap.

      1. From the Catholic Catechism:

        All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.

        The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.


        Having relationships with people is not a fringe benefit of going to church. It is an essential part of going to church. A group of people isolated from each other is NOT a community of faith.

  2. Insightful. We have a say that goes “Do not contemplate on the teacher; Instead contemplate on the teaching”

    1. The teaching is indeed perfect and even one teacher was as well.

  3. I came very very close to leaving the church entirely for personal reasons, and also because my childhood parish was not very welcoming, even after I’d been there for 18 years. My solution was to try out other churches until I found what I was looking for. Now, a few years later, i do now have many parishes I could call home and be very happy. The time I was away from the church, for many months because I was too shy or independent to reach out for help, or because of work, or because of a destructive lifestyle I chose to live, I felt very empty. I have realized that I need Mass and community to get through life, and I even get a bit down if I have to miss Sunday Mass for work reasons. I’ve learned that if it’s the community/leader that’s not making you happy, time to move on.

    1. That is one of the greatest blessings of Catholicism – the diversity of our Church. Despite the many cultures, languages and worship styles parish-to-parish, we are of ONE faith.

      1. I was told from “the pulpit”, that “they” aught to build you guys a place where you can practice YOUR religion.
        I am part Native American who lives, works, educated, and has a family within a 4 or 5 hours drive from the nearest Indian Reservation (no affiliation though).
        I called out from the 6th pew and asked if he was talking about segregated services or what.
        I can’t remember what justification he had, but reference was made that “you guys” won your court battle..
        I admit, that I didn’t listen to what he said not dignify anymore of him with any response or action.
        What I don’t understand is why the group of Natives I am descended from dropped their many of their old customs and quickly adopted Christianity, lived much the same as the mainstream. At some point in history we were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes”.
        I myself was raised as a Christian and have never participated in any tribal religion.

  4. Deacon Curtis. I used to be a regular at one parish -although not at the moment- and often wondered about some folks missing. My biggest obstacle to follow through was that I did not have the phone numbers of most of them. But even when I had the phone number, I never had the focus or prayed for discernment about what to do. Thank you for your blog. I will pay more attention next time I become a regular at a parish. I may be the only person noticing someone slipping away from the faith.

    1. Joy,

      You would be a great person to work with a hospitality ministry (or start one if needed). It is amazing what a “good morning” and a mailing list can do for the life of a parish.

  5. This is a beautiful article and stunning poem, I recently had a hurtful experience in Church by a regular member of the congregation, whom I barely know and has taken a dislike to me, I am currently trying to forgive and “get over” the incident, its not easy and have reported it to the Priest. I continue to go to Mass and try to be strong in the face of this individual’s intimidation. This article has been very consoling for my heart and soul. God Bless you always.

    1. Anne,

      As you pray over this situation remember, we have a God that was hated by some, though he did nothing wrong. Furthermore, our God was humiliated, tortured and murdered. Christ is fully capable of understanding your pain. So are many others of our fellow Christians. You are not alone! God bless you too!

  6. I had an issue with a priest many years ago and mentioned this to my mother. She told me to ask God to help me see the priest through His (God’s) eyes. I’ve had nothing but amazing success with her advice and have used it many times. I always feel uncomfortable when people say they don’t feel welcome in this or that parish or worse, leave the Catholic Church because they aren’t getting the warm fuzzies. I wonder if they really understand what they ARE getting at a Catholic Mass. How could anyone want for more if they really understood? I’m not insensitive or mean, quite the opposite. I would consider myself a kind and charitable person, but the Mass is where I and my family of fellow parishioners, some known to me and some not (and it doesn’t matter and that’s what’s so neat!), come to worship together our loving Father Who gives us everything we need and more and receive His Son. KNOWING FOR A FACT you are part of a family may be different than FEELING you are part of a family, but of the two, I’d rather KNOW it than FEEL it. Warm fuzzies can be gotten many places, but the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ Himself can only be gotten at the family meal of the Catholic Mass. Why would anyone go to Mass longing for human love and acceptance, or leave feeling unwelcome, when it was Christ’s love and acceptance they just received?

  7. I love and miss the catholic church…yet it is a “club”. Life happens…I was divorced to start and now I am looked down upon and not allowed to have communion because I am a sinner? I cannot have my child baptized unless I admit to my sins?? The “catholic guilt” never ends… how can that possibly be God’s will?

  8. All sentences are about anything or an individual. The something or another person that the sentence is about is named the topic on the sentence. Out of your blog, I see that, and review a little something I would like. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Remember what sets us apart from most other faiths . The Source and Summit of our faith is Jesus present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Sacrament of the Alter gives us the strength , encouragement, and love we need to carry on the Mission of Jesus in this world until we meet Him face to face in the next.

  10. this was sad to read. I have left the Catholic Church due to being unwelcomed by prtiests and parish members. As a woman I have had to also deal with inappropriate behaviors from priests that does not feel safe. There us also a lot of dualistic thinking of separation that continues to divide people of different races, religions, and gender.

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