I went to church for the first time in over a decade

It definitely wasn’t what I expected

I want to begin this article by saying any belief you hold close to you should be respected and left for no one else but you to decide. There are two parts of this article that need to be explained: the before and after. Before is referring to the time leading up to my decision to go while the after is what I took away from the first church service I’ve been to in over a decade.

I did not grow up in a religious household. My parents believed I should choose religion for myself after being given the resources to make my own rational choice. I grew up in a Presbyterian Pre-school and participated in their vacation bible school every summer both as a kid and a team leader guiding younger kids through the program.

This is very different from church, however, because bible school was more of a summer camp for children and their religious experiences. I tried going to many different church services when I was younger, but I never felt like I belonged. There were always statements that made me question so many other beliefs or made me feel like I should believe in something that I was unable to believe. Overall, I was not a fan.

My sister and I in pre-K

I hold most of my morals and values to be ones heavily influenced by Christianity. I’ve been shaped from such a young age in pre-K and being born into a predominantly christian hometown where YoungLife was all the rage. I consider myself a “good kid” – earning the grades and keeping a clean record for my acceptance into college (my parents can attest to this), so when people ask me how I am able to keep my morals without religion, how do I answer this? It’s almost as if my morals and values lose credibility without faith. My answer? I treat people how I want to be treated. It’s that simple.

Having awkward experiences in churches as a child definitely pushed me away from Sunday morning services, but recently I wondered what it would be like to go back with some maturity under my belt, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

I went to a church in Atlanta with my friend Drew and his little brother at 11am on a Sunday morning. We were about three minutes late, and we walk into a room full of people standing up from their chairs and benches singing along with a man playing the piano. (There was also a violin which took me back to my viola playing orchestra days.) The melodies were pretty simple and similar which lead me to think it was one continuous 10 minute song. Come to find out, there were a solid four complete songs in this 10 minute span. People raised their hands throughout the songs usually in the choruses or crescendos of the music which puzzled me at first because none of the churches I went to ever did this. My friend later explained to me the meaning or feeling of a strong presence usually is a reason for the hand raising.

The service began with announcements and a short video about a couple’s journey with God and how they began to foster a baby girl. It was professionally shot and in black and white. Then, the pastor spoke. Before the sermon, he explained an event they were planning centered around the premise that religion has no color and God is accepting of anyone willing to have faith. The whole room applauded this statement. I clapped along supporting this wholeheartedly because I had never been to a church that addressed this issue. To see a community of people coming together in support of everyone around them was truly amazing.

The sermon was about things that we as humans vow to never do but sometimes we give in to temptation, fear, and weakness. He talked about Peter’s struggle when Jesus told him Peter would disown him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning, and being confident, Peter said he would never do that. Well, you guessed it, Peter denied knowing Jesus to three different people before the rooster crowed. This represents the human flaws of weakness and fear that we all experience.

I immediately thought of when I was younger and taught not to curse because it was “bad”. I thought I would never curse, and when I heard my parents do it, I would tell them not to because I truly thought it was evil. Well, I must admit now that I am in a difficult school, cursing happens regularly. The pastor was young, charismatic, and funny. He didn’t just stand up there and preach a valuable lesson from a script, he preached for a range of ages in the audience with jokes, relatable examples, and in a conversational style.

My experience after going to church for the first time in a long time was not what I had expected – in a good way. It was slightly overwhelming as I’d bet a good majority of the people in there go to church regularly, but as a whole, I was very glad I went. Every church is different, and there is no reason you have to limit yourself when you can always try something new.

Georgia Tech