Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My experience in a Christian support group

Yeah, it still surprises even me that I can write that as a blog title.

I was tired of driving so far for my kids to play with other kids. It really annoyed me that "friends" in our homeschool group would not venture out more than 15 minutes away; that we are always the ones who had to travel the 30 minutes to them. It was frustrating that the group founder would not change the day of playgroup to accommodate us despite the fact that we were one of the four families that always showed up and that we had been part of the group from the start, and instead accepted our absence (to participate in a preexisting co-op) with seeming indifference.

The co-op was too good to not try so we were basically friendless again. Then I read about a support group that met on Fridays (a day we could go) just 15 minutes away! I immediately emailed the woman who posted the info to the statewide yahoo group, and we corresponded a few times until finally I wrote:

"I was raised Catholic, but no longer practice. So we'd prefer a group which does not gather based on a shared faith", and was replied to with this: "I'm sorry C, the St. Anthony group is probably not the group for you. You are welcome to join us at New Life Church as we are not affiliated with any particular religion."

At this point I realize I was wrong in assuming that she meant the group was secular, but perhaps she could have done a better good job conveying that although they were not affiliated with any particular religion, they were in fact, all Christian, and did actually "gather based on a shared faith". But back then I had no idea what I was getting into.

The first day we arrived at the church my kids were thrilled to find at least 50 other kids. They were having a sports day with games, and both boys, although shy that first day, did have a good time and wanted to go back. But I should've known something was up when a woman who was directing the children just about hyperventilated when I wouldn't tell her my last name because I prefer everyone call me by my first. And I guess the prayer at the end of the meeting was a good indication of what was to come, as well.

The boys and I talked it over and decided we could be respectful of their prayers without having to believe in what we were doing, and participated in a hay ride with our new friends the next week. It was then that the boys started clicking with a couple of others. So I paid my $20 membership fee and hoped for the best.

Then along came First Lego League. My 11-year-old got an invitation to participate in it with some people we had met through some nature classes and we jumped on it; FLL is something I had really wanted to get him involved with, but didn't know how. Unfortunately though, it meant missing several Fridays of our new playgroup until after the tournament. I wrote to the president of the group and let her know, but didn't hear back from her.

I received an email explaining all the activities that were planned for over the next few months. There were a couple of things I didn't want my kids to participate in though. One was current events, since I was concerned about the context in which it would be presented, and the other was Keepers of the Faith. This is an excerpt of how it was explained in a separate email:

The purpose of the program is to:

  • Build character in their children
  • Teach practical skills
  • Rear children who walk with Christ
  • Establish lasting family ties
  • Strengthen their home school curriculum
  • Create true quality time with their children
  • Make the Scriptures a real part of their children’s lives
  • Teach children how to serve others
We, as a homeschool group, are utilizing this program, and the structure it provides, to teach our children many different things. In a way, it is similar to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, in that as the child is taught and shows competency in different skills or areas of knowledge, and various requirements are met, they are able to earn a badge as an award for their work. The "badges" are actually metal pins (no sewing, Mom) that can be clasped to a sash, banner, or hat - very nice looking and of an excellent quality. Last year the kids made personalized banners to mount their growing collections.

But what really got me is this part:

Each boy will need "the Contenders for the Faith handbook for boys, ages 7 through 14, to equip them to become godly men and competent providers for their future families. The handbook is unquestionably an excellent skill-builder. The boys will learn how to handle finances, do home maintenance, and develop skills in leadership. Plus, extensive Bible reading, memory work, and Bible study are included to aid them in developing good habits in their own walk with God. Whether your son is a member of a club or uses it as part of his home education, it is an absolute Christian character-builder!"

Each girl will need "the Keepers at Home handbook for young ladies which is perfect for girls 7 through 16. The handbook is crammed full of information to teach and prepare girls to become godly, competent keepers of the home, Christian wives, and mothers. It not only includes extensive skills for practical living and creative handiwork, but provides for spiritual growth as well with a variety of Bible reading and memory work, and even a study on Proverbs 31. Whether your daughter is a member of a club or uses it as part of her home education, it is an absolute character-builder! No future homemaker should be without it!"

This is when I realized that this group was not a good fit for us, and we wouldn't be returning after First Lego League was done. Then I got this email:

Due to the phenomenal growth in [our group] this year, a decision has been made to close membership. Anyone inquiring about membership from now on will be placed on a waiting list. Further, everyone currently involved with FAITH needs to realize that membership requires a commitment to attend most activities and meetings. It is understood that everyone will miss some events but this is not a group where attendance is on an "as convenient" schedule. If you can not attend regularly, you may be placed on the waiting list until such time as your schedule permits regular attendance. This will allow those who are prepared to commit to the group to be active and allow those with schedule conflicts to complete their other activities.

This was good news because it meant I could get my 20 bucks back!

I have to say that there is definitely a part of me that is saddened by the fact that Christian homeschoolers segregate themselves, but I suppose it becomes necessary, as their religion is such a huge part of who they are that it oozes into every aspect of their being. (Kind of like a fag I was friends with back in NY; he oozed his sexuality to the point that I didn't even want to be with him anymore.)

These folks are such truly nice people, and there are some of us out here on the outside of the bubble who try to put that out there, but can't find enough people to reflect it back. It's so unfortunate that many Christians are incapable of bringing their goodness to others without bringing their god into it. Some of us appreciate the intrinsic value of being good, and don't feel religion should be part of that; be good just to be good.

I will miss this group immensely, but learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing is for us to stay true to who we are.

And keep looking for the goodness in secular groups.


Anonymous said...

I find the exclusivity of some Christian homeschoolers quite off putting also. There is so much fear and righteousness bound up in the Christian faith. I am not saying others are any better but I agree with you..humans are naturally good and want to do good things. They don't need Jesus to find their own true North.