I grew up going to the same church my parents were married in: an Anglican church in a small Ontario town. I have my baptism certificate, a few photos of me in an angel costume during a Christmas pageant and fond memories of singing hymns and drinking warm apple juice in the sunny classrooms of Sunday school. I remember wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a velvet blue ribbon to Easter service, sitting with the adults and feeling like I belonged on those long wooden pews.
I also remember that faith no longer made sense to me when my parents divorced. I equated faith with fairness and, at 10 years old, divorce simply didn’t seem fair.
So I never went back to church. That means my kids—eight-year-old Isaac and five-year-old Gillian—have never been to church either. That is, until this week, when I enrolled them in Bible camp at our community’s United Church. I hope Bible camp can help them find answers to some of the big questions they have about religion and faith—questions that I, frankly, don’t want to answer.
“Today we read Genesis,” Isaac told us after his first day of camp. “Is it true that God made everything? What about Gitche Manitou [the “Great Spirit” he learned about during the school’s Aboriginal culture unit]? Or the Big Bang?”
Unlike Isaac’s usual questions (What’s for supper? and Can you really get a pea stuck up your nose?), this wasn’t one I could Google, or even answer in a straightforward way. Instead, I turned it back on him and asked him what he thought.
“I think all the Gods worked together, which would have been really cool,” he replied. “Plus, it would be a lot of work to make the whole world on your own without any help.”
Gillian, on the other hand, chose to believe the story of creation without question. (I did need to remind her that babies grow inside women rather than in the air, which was her interpretation.) My husband and I have purposefully left our own views out of these conversations, preferring to hear what our kids think—and it’s fascinating.
But just because my husband and I don’t identify with one single religion doesn’t mean that the topic of religion is taboo in our house or that our kids are raised without morals. In our house, we don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.
Los Angeles Times columnist Phil Zuckerman hit it home earlier this year in an op-ed he wrote, where he tackled the topic of the growing number of secular families in America (in the US, 23 percent of adults claim they have no religion). In his piece, he referenced multiple studies that confirm that “godless” kids are doing just fine and that kids learn morals and ethics in non-religious families like ours.
Data from the 2001 census reports that 16 percent of Canadians don’t have a religion (which explains why I was one of the few parents who left the “home church” line blank on the registration form). Statistically, our family is in the minority, and I’m okay with that.
Here’s why: Like sexuality, faith is intensely personal. And for that reason, I’d no sooner tell my children which God to believe in than whom they should marry. Instead, I want them to learn and have the courage to ask difficult questions—and then choose what feels right to them.
Since I know I’m not the person who has all the answers when it comes to religion, sending them to a Bible camp in a safe and loving environment is an opportunity for them to view church through their own eyes. It’s a luxury not afforded to all children in the world—and for that, I do give thanks.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.