Mockingbird’s latest publication, Churchy by Sarah Condon, is flying off the shelves! A hilarious and deeply touching dispatch from the trenches of contemporary life, the book recounts the real life (and grace-saturated) adventures of a wife, mom, and priest as only Sarah can. The introduction alone, excerpted below, features tips on raising churchy kids of your own, and an explanation of the startling white robes seen here:
“Are you guys wearing KKK hoods?!”
I started college at a small liberal arts school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Upon arrival, I affixed several family photos to the wall of my dorm room. After about a week of classes, one of my friends uncomfortably pointed to a photograph of me and my brother and asked the above question.
“Nope,” I quickly snapped back, “those are acolyte robes. We were at church.”
Like most of my Mississippi peers, I grew up in a household where church was a mandatory activity. But unlike the committed Southern Baptists and dutiful Presbyterians of my childhood, I couldn’t have told you exactly why. We did not read the Bible at home. No one asked me if I wanted a Promise Ring at fourteen. Bibles were for keeping family records, and sex was for college. This was the sage wisdom of my childhood.
When my mother would wake us up at 7:30am to get ready for the early service, I would complain to her that our churchgoing made little sense. She appeared to lack the fervor of her peers. My parents never lectured us on salvation or moral behavior. Our church attendance never had much to do with the way my parents voted or who they kept as friends. What was the point? Why were we even going? In response to my complaints Mom would simply say, “We take you to church every Sunday so you have something to fall back on when life gets hard.”
Life did get hard. Not because something dramatic happened but because I am a person in the world. I didn’t last very long at that college in Santa Fe because I am more straight and narrow than I would like to admit. I ended up at the University of Mississippi. It took me two years to have more than one friend. And all the while, I kept going to church.
Much to both my parents’ and my surprise, I felt called to ordained ministry. Which just goes to show, the harder you pray for your child to be a pastor, the more likely you are to end up with a mixologist. My advice for raising children to be Christian is to take them to church and not talk about it too much on the ride home.
Life is hard now for other reasons. I married a wonderful guy named Josh who also happens to be a person in the world. So we love each other unequivocally and also fight about things like how fast he drives or the lack of mayonnaise in my egg salad. We have two children, Neil and Annie. And while they are the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the planet, they are not the fashion accessories that the Kardashian family promised me they would be.
Josh and I are both Episcopal priests. But most Sundays, you can find me in the pew with our children. On occasion, I stand behind an altar and celebrate communion. All of it is wonderful, altar and pew. Yet despite how much our life sounds like a liturgical Hallmark movie, you’ll find in the following pages that we are just as smelly, angry, and broken as you are. And you will see that church is a place I cannot seem to stay away from.
Someone asked me recently what I hope my children gain from regular church attendance. “Oh, that’s easy,” I laughed. “That their Mama really, really needs Jesus.”
Often, when my children are noisily barreling down the aisles for communion, I remind myself that it’s a good thing how comfortable they are in church. In truth, we are there so much that it must feel like home to them. At home you let it all hang out. You are loud and insistent, loving and sad, joyful and funny. Through the beautiful language of the church, my children are learning that Jesus loves them. They are hearing about their own sin and God’s forgiveness. Also of great importance, our weekly church habit offers them something to fall back on when life gets hard.
Originally, I wanted to call this book Prodigal Daughter. Whenever I read that parable, I am struck by how much I resemble both of the siblings involved. I am the daughter who runs away from God, looking for the world to bring me happiness. Yet, I am also the daughter who thrives on righteousness and responsibility (Luke 15: 11-32).
It turns out that somebody already wrote a book called Prodigal Daughter. In fact, several people have written books by that title. Some of them are written by parents who refer to their children as “prodigal” (Seems a little judgmental to me. Does that make the parents God?). Others appear to be bonnet-rippers, which is to say, chaste erotica. And if there is anything I have not been in my life, it is chaste. My expertise lies elsewhere.
Fortunately, as St. Paul wrote, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Incidentally, I Am the Worst would have been an excellent title for my book. We went with Churchy because it sounds like a nightclub and because it is undeniably true.
The truth is I am churchy to my core and proud of it. I need the sacraments, I long for the liturgy, and, to be totally honest, I enjoy weak coffee. Mostly though, I am churchy because I need to hear the Gospel preached week in and week out. I have never understood believing in Jesus and not going to church. I don’t judge the choice. I just figure non-churchgoing Christians must have a better memory than I do. Because I forget about the unrelenting grace of God all the time. I have to hear about it with alarming regularity.
I suppose that’s a long-winded way of saying that the real title of this book should be Churchy Prodigal Daughter Who Is the Worst. Which is a mouthful, sure, but at least it beats The Adventures of a Chaste Klan Girl.