A Belgian in the North Country: church

I almost never go to church in Belgium. You might see me at a wedding or a funeral or some other events, but that’s all.  I was raised Catholic, but mass never became a habit since no one in my family went. Sometimes I would go to a Taizé mass.

So when I arrived in the United States, I was a bit confused what to do with my religion, since my host family is actually more Catholic than I am. My host mom told me on the first day that they pray before dinner and I must confess I freaked out a little bit. Not because I did not want to do it, but because I had absolutely no idea how to pray. What am I supposed to say? What do I do with my hands? I respect my host family, so I didn’t want to offend them by doing something wrong. Fortunately, my host family understood that I was new to this. The next day, my host mom gave me the words to the prayer they used so I started to memorize them as fast as I could. Now it has become a habit to pray before dinner and sometimes it even feels weird when I’m not doing it.

My host family also goes to church on Sunday. Before I came to the United States, I decided to experience as much of the my family’s culture as possible. The first Sunday after my arrival, I was ready for church, or at least that is what I thought. What should I wear? Do I have to dress up? My host dad told me it doesn’t matter as long as you’re dressed, so I stuck with the first outfit I picked out.

We arrived at church and as always I was amazed of the beauty of the building. I followed my host dad to the front, where he suddenly bowed to the altar, which is a thing we do not do, or at least I can not recall us doing it. So I bowed my head and I took my seat. The lady in front of us noticed my nerves and told me, “You do not have to be afraid, we are all part of the body of Jesus and you can be the elbow.” I chuckled a little bit, let me explain to you why. A week or two before leaving Belgium, I went ice skating and I ended up with a cast because I cracked my elbow, so I thought it was a little bit funny that she picked the elbow. But I felt welcome and guided.

My host dad and a friend guided me trough the mass and I discovered their are some differences, but most of the mass is just the same. The hardest part for sure was that mass was in English here.

But I made it a habit to go to mass. I skipped some because I was not feeling well or I had other plans.

I am thankful that I experienced religion here in the North Country. I am grateful that as an outsider, I was included in the community. I am thankful for meeting the bishop and exploring religion in a different way.

But church didn’t always feel comfortable to me. I felt like they tell you how to live your life, how you should experience religion, and I do not always agree with their principles. I am discovering different roads and I am in a search of who I am and how religion fits in my life, but I prefer to do it my way.

I feel that going to church is a way to feel connected to people, but not going does not mean you’re don’t believe or are against it. I don’t feel like praying because I have to, I pray when it feels right. So, I probably won’t go to mass when I return home, because my life there is different. We do not pray at my house before dinner and I don’t think we will. Don’t get me wrong, I respect every culture and religion, but some thing about this are just not for me.

Melissa Callaert is working as an intern at North Country Public Radio for the Spring 2016 semester.

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