How do non-believing parents find a church for their kids?
December 15, 2012 11:01 AM   Subscribe

How can we, as atheists, find a church for our children who want to attend?

My husband and I have just taken in our first two foster children! We're doing pretty well except for this one thing: The children were going to church in their last placement and would very much like to continue going to church.

Their old church is no longer an option for reasons I can not discuss.

My husband was raised Catholic and I attended Catholic church for awhile in my early 20's so I know nothing about any sort of Protestant churches. I'm not looking forward to taking them exactly but I can understand why a loving, all knowing, protective father figure God is appealing to them and makes them feel safe and stable. I also think it's a nice way for them to make friends with children they don't go to school with. They particularly like Sunday school.

So, how do we find a church? We don't really have any church going friends.

(Bonus points for how my husband and I can explain our own lack of religion without making them feel bad for their beliefs or enjoyment of faith/church.)
posted by Saminal to Religion & Philosophy (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a friend who can bring you all along? That would probably make most sense.
posted by Iteki at 11:05 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man, it seems like it would be really important to respect the culture of the children here and take them to the denomination that they are used to going to, or as close as possible, even if the specific church they were attending isn't an option. To do anything else seems like cultural whitewashing, unless you believe the church is truly abusive.
posted by cairdeas at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

Is there an issue with the denomination they previously attended or just the specific church? If there's an issue with the church, just take them to a different local Baptist or Pentecostal or whatever church. If there's an issue with the denomination, like they are Jehovah's Witnesses and you just cannot deal, then either drop them off and pick them up or take them to a local Unitarian church, which doesn't even require you to believe in God and where you'll be totally fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

What denomination were they? How old are they?

Regardless, you may have a local Unitarian Universalist church that would be happy to take them in on Sundays and won't offend your own humanist sensibilities (since you'll likely have to go with them).

As for explaining your own lack of religion, don't. If they ask, tell them that you'd rather not discuss it. You don't owe them an explanation of an intensely personal subject.
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

What denomination was their church? I'd figure that out first. I was raised Catholic, too, but I know there's a big difference between Lutherans, Unitarians, and Baptists. So, denomination first.

Then, google around for options in your community. You'd be surprised at how much you can glean about a church from their website. If, for example, a church mentions on its website that it welcomes all people, including (say) those who are LGBTQ, then you know it's probably a place that would welcome other kinds of families, like yours.

I think it's totally fine to be taking your kids for their sake. You don't even have to pretend to be there for you. Just be honest, "I am Sarah's foster mother, and it's important for her to maintain a connection to X." But you don't have to offer up this information. People probably aren't going to quiz you about your beliefs and why you are there.

Also, check in with coworkers, acquaintances, etc.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:09 AM on December 15, 2012

They are 7 and 11. They were attending a smallish, fairly rural Baptist church. We have been specifically told by the caseworker that they can not attend that church any longer. We are TOTALLY open to other Baptists churches, I just don't know anything about them.

The only church going friends or relatives we have attend Catholic churches which I suspect would not be to the kid's liking. (They often enjoy doing impressions of their previous pastor and it's very energetic and informal.)
posted by Saminal at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2012

You could always ask other foster parents, too. The excellent Fosterhood blog is a good place to start. Personally, I'd find the same denomination and see if a sympathetic Sunday School teacher can help you get them settled. You don't have to attend with them, but even if you do end up sitting through some hymn singing and a sermon on Sunday mornings, it's not going to harm you. I don't believe, but I'm perfectly willing to watch while others worship.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Their ages would help with an explanation, but I would perhaps go with "we were raised in a different church and now that we're older we don't go, but we're happy to go with you to X church".

I don't know. I'm an atheist and I'm not ashamed of it in the least, but I would smooth this particular issue over by focusing on the cultural background that you do share with them, namely, the way you were raised in a church.

Also, depending on your foster agency, there might be rules in place about discussing your religion with them. If your social worker(s)/caseworkers seem competent, you can ask them what they suggest as I am sure they have come upon this situation before.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

A United Church of Christ should be inoffensive (i.e. not anti-gay/anti-woman, no "going to hell" stuff) but still have the God component which most UU churches would be lacking.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:15 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, sorry, I posted while you were writing that. I agree with you that Catholic churches might not work well for a Baptist. My grandmother was raised Baptist and she was always very negative about Catholicism due to the "idol-worship" and other such things (sorry).

If you can call the other Baptist churches in the region and ask to speak to the person who does Sunday School or children's ministry, or if that's not possible just the minister, it might help give you an idea of what to expect and what the culture of that particular church is.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:15 AM on December 15, 2012

This is really great for you to be doing.

You may find this list helpful in searching for churches in your area. "Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love." Which is church speak for we like gay people too.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:16 AM on December 15, 2012

Just want to add one thing, to make it more specific -

You may find that there are no Baptist churches in your area whose beliefs/teachings mesh very well with your personal beliefs and values. You may find, in all of those churches, a teaching or practice that may seriously offend you or freak you out. If that happens, I would just like to ask you to give some very serious consideration to and do a lot of reading about this issue - displaced children cared for adults of a different culture, where aspects of the children's culture are considered by the adults to be offensive, weird, suboptimal, etc.
posted by cairdeas at 11:25 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Specifically in regards to how to communicate your beliefs: The important thing that you can teach them here is that a lot of people have different beliefs, varying from small differences in Christian denominations to atheism and polytheism, from idol worship to self-denial. Every person if free to belief what makes sense for them. Just because people don't share the same beliefs, it doesn't mean other people are wrong. Religious beliefs are very personal beliefs, and while we can have different beliefs than someone else, we can still respect their beliefs. Religious tolerance, and acceptance of others' beliefs, is one of the most conscientious things we can do as humans. Which is why you, who don't believe in God, want to make sure they, who do believe in God, are able to attend a Church that fits with their beliefs and where they can find a community of people who believe what they do.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:28 AM on December 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

One good way to go might be a Welcoming and Affirming baptist church, if there's one near you.

You might find progressive Christian churches much easier to be a part of, so I would suggest beginning with that link and the moving on to this list if necessary. I am a very liberal person who still has strong emotional connections to my faith, and this was how I found a church that supports my viewpoints and is welcoming and open to people of all different beliefs and walks of life. Those who have recommended a Unitarian church are also onto something.

Good luck!
posted by araisingirl at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

You might look at American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA) Baptist churches, which are on the whole more liberal than Southern Baptists, but often have a similar feel and style. Seeing you're in Texas, you might also look at Methodist churches, which are mainline/liberal in beliefs, and run the gamut from "Methocatholic" to very evangelical in their worship styles.

UCC is also a good bet for a liberal-but-mainline church.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Research the specific congregation and figure out which kind of Baptist they are. If it was Freewill, American, etc., that makes a big difference. Also check with the case worker to be sure this wasn't a situation where they were doing snake handling or whatever - there may be a denominational thing that is a factor, but I kind of doubt it.

It may not be against the rules per se, but I am VERY strongly against you taking them to any place that is more different than their last church than is absolutely necessary. Do not screw around with your foster children's religious beliefs/practices.

If you are not currently attending a UU congregation, that means don't take them to a UU congregation.
posted by SMPA at 12:08 PM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts;

Does the church they can no longer attend have a sister church somewhere nearby? (There is a more appropriate term for this, but my memory fails me at the moment; basically it is where some members break off of the original church to start another branch, but still following the same teachings/attitude of the original church, not because of any disagreement about belief).

Are the kids at the same school they were attending before they came to stay with you? Perhaps they have friends that go to church, maybe the parents could suggest a good one.

Best of luck. Do let us know how it turns out.
posted by vignettist at 12:10 PM on December 15, 2012

Well, you're asking this at the absolutely best possible time -- I'm a protestant churchgoer with kids and many churches make an extra effort to be welcoming at Easter and Christmas since that's the only time a lot of people go. We get a weekly reminder to carpool if possible and leave the good spaces for visitors. The sermons are going to be about topics the first-time visitor would find interesting, and not about the capital campaign to put a new roof on the building. Also, there are likely to be Sunday school / kids' events.

If I were you I'd google churches and your area code, then check out church web sites. What I'd be looking for is an active children's ministry. Ideally split up by age group, because that means they have enough kids attending that they won't all fit in one room. I'd also check out pictures of church members if they have any - lots of 30 & 40-somethings is a good sign because many of them have kids. Pick out a few likely ones and go.

I wouldn't stress about feeling out of place. Many parents end up going to churches that are more conservative or mainstream than they might choose otherwise, just because big, mainstream, conservative churches tend to have better children's ministries. So not everyone there is necessarily going to be horrified if they learn you're not a believer. Just say that you're checking out churches in the area because the kids want to go.

Personally I think a big church is going to be easier. If you show up at a small rural church, all eyes will be on you. If you go to a big church there are more likely to be other kids of the right ages, and there won't be as much attention focused on you and your husband.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I went to several churches when I was a child. My family is vaguely Christian, but spread out over various denominations, and couched in variable fervency per denomination. My entrance was via Sunday School classes, which were oriented toward Bible stories that illustrated the more useful tenets taught by Jesus. I liked the stories. I don't remember too much naked doctrine being foisted on us children, but then that was a long time ago. Afterward we were ushered into the main room, where the minister preached, or rites were performed, with the entire congregation present.

My experienced ranges from Catholic to Baptist to several evangelical sects, one of which featured weekly testimonials and people speaking in tongues. My conversations with my mother were mostly general: she read the Bible, but didn't have much interest in preachers or organized churches. Neither she nor my sisters ever went to church, but one of my brothers did. They are okay for the gathering of people, was the gist I got from it. Nobody was wedded to the idea that their church was real deal among Christians, and they didn't seem to mind my more or less promiscuous churchiness. I liked best the churches that let us sing. But I was also impressed by the ones that had neat rituals, for example the Catholic mass, and the Baptist dunking. The church next door to us had what I at first thought was a large fish tank behind the pulpit. You can imagine how delighted I was when I found out different.

Somewhere around my high-school days I came to think that religions were pretty much fictions, and the afterlife they promised was no more than wishful thinking. It took a while before my views became less negative, and I was able to think about the social messages that religions seem to embody. I remain an atheist, but I reserve the right to recognize the Cosmic Muffin, should it make a appearance.

I have conversations from time to time with the door-knockers of different flavors, but only when I come across those who are willing to let me be my athiestic self. We talk about their religion and its messages, and I don't challenge their basic, faith-based visions, which I consider delusional. In return, they don't actively pity me because of how I am obviously going to Hell. Not all Christians are Christianists, it seems.

For some months one of my neighbors came to my house for weekly Bible discussions. For example, we read the Book of John, and discussed it in detail. He was well-versed in the history of the times, as well as his Bible theory. He prove to be a wonderful instructor. I got a good idea of what it meant to the average guy when the verse cited money exchanges. His detailed knowledge helped me understand a lot of the allusions in the King James translation. I was moved, though, by his abiding sadness over not helping me salvage my soul, and impressed that he didn't think it necessary to hound me about it.

I say all this because your children will likely be schooled in a similar "Sunday School" setting. It would be extremely helpful if you (as parents) attended these sessions, or at least sampled them now and then. You should refrain from injecting your views into the sessions. If you want to talk to the the instructors, keep in mind that you are a guest, and it would not be appropriate for you to try to modify their lesson plans. Look into Buddhism and Islam, too. I can't speak to entry-level versions of Islam, but the Buddhists are very welcoming, and especially good at handling children.

I've come to think that not all Christians need my condescending tolerance--they in fact are often more tolerable to me than, say, Republicans. That's to say that not all my interactions with them must be contentious. If you can deal with them in a similar way, then your children won't find it wierd that you don't believe in a specific creator. Many creation myths are out there. Children's literature regarding this is everywhere. Supplement their religious instruction with views from various sources. I like the Coyote Turd story, for example. The Judeo-Christian version is one of the less interesting ones.

However you deal with it, you will eventually need to explain to your kids why they won't be seeing you in heaven.
posted by mule98J at 12:24 PM on December 15, 2012

Etrigan: "What denomination were they? How old are they?

Regardless, you may have a local Unitarian Universalist church that would be happy to take them in on Sundays and won't offend your own humanist sensibilities (since you'll likely have to go with them).

As for explaining your own lack of religion, don't. If they ask, tell them that you'd rather not discuss it. You don't owe them an explanation of an intensely personal subject.

I agree with the first half of this (as far as I can tell the UUs are really awesome and accepting of all kinds of beliefs and have fun, participatory services that the kids will probably enjoy, although trying to find a Baptist church where they can attend services seems worthwhile too) but not the second half.

I think even though they are foster kids, and this isn't an adoption situation, it's still worthwhile to make them feel part of the family in every way, including being honest about your religious choices. I come from a multi-faith family and "everyone can choose the religion that's right for them, including some people who choose not to have a religion" was the explanation I was always given. It's one I still hold close to my heart.
posted by capricorn at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree with others, but I would suggest to the kids that it may take a few tries to find what they're looking for. They may be surprised, offended, or sad to find that other churches are different. Losing their church community is another kind of loss for them, and it won't be easily replaced, I think, even if you find the same denomination.

I like the suggestion that you mention how you used to go to church, rather than focusing on the atheism.

I woukd also go with them to church each week, even if it wasn't my thing. They deserve some looking out for, rather than just being dropped off with yet another set of unfamiliar people.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2012

I also just wanted to clarify that their family or origin had no particular religious beliefs. They were in a foster home previous to ours which is where the church going and religion started.

We are not attempting to modify or in any way disrespect their burgeoning interest in faith and religion. We are just trying to lessen that amount of loss from this most recent move. After speaking with them more today it is clear that the things they really like about church are: everyone is nice, the singing, getting dressed up, and god loves everyone always and never abandons you.

Taking that in to account I think we'll start trying out some churches with rich youth programs and I thought the suggestions of how to find places that would offer the most love and acceptance were really great.

Thanks Metafilter.
posted by Saminal at 6:21 PM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd ask your caseworker or certifier to see if a fellow foster parent might be active in a local baptist church and reach out to them-I've seen situations like this where a church-going foster parent might even be willing to take your kids to and from church, with perhaps the chance that you might reciprocate kid-wrangling some other day. Many churches have programs to engage children whose parents are church goers, but as foster parents, you'll need to be 1000% certain that the volunteer who offers to drive the kids to and from is safe. Another foster parent can be great because you know they've had their background checked.
posted by purenitrous at 7:10 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

They might also really enjoy saying grace at mealtimes, if they did that at the previous foster home. This ask metafilter has some nice suggestions for universal atheist-friendly grace blessings that could work for you all.

Do they have their own bibles? There are nice child-version bibles or collections of bible stories and that might be a good gift for them, along with a collection of fairy tales or world myths if you want a kid-friendly counterbalance!
posted by viggorlijah at 1:33 AM on December 16, 2012

I agree with the "send them with a friend" idea. When I was a kid in the system, I hated that I had zero control over my religious choices. As long as they are able to attend a church that is pro-LGBT, I think you should totally figure out a way to make this happen. Kudos.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:37 AM on December 16, 2012

So my husband was Catholic but left after not being able to take a lot of the social sorts of issues related to the church. I'm... agnostic would probably be the best way to phrase it. We've found that the UCC is a great fit for us, plenty of God, and enough Jesus to make him happy without making me uncomfortable. Since I see you favorited a Baptist welcoming and affirming answer above I will note that UCC does open and affirming as well (not all are, but you can find one here). Even with my lack of religiousity (never really went as a kid, etc) I've always felt welcomed at all the UCC churches we have visited. If Jesus is important to the kids, this is probably a better option than the UU churches, because while those are great, they do not tend to have much emphasis on Jesus and his role.

As for talking with them about your religious views, they are totally old enough for you to be up front with what you feel and believe and I think it is important that you do. Just make sure you also give credence to what they feel and what they want to believe. With my son, I try to explain things as many people believe X, others believe Y (etc) and that none of it is wrong, they are just different ways of looking at the world. I've also talked about what I didn't like about specific churches, but more in a "I didn't feel that was fair" or a "It didn't seem to fit with my thoughts and feelings" than a "And that's wrong!" or "That was bad" sort of way.
posted by katers890 at 9:40 AM on December 17, 2012

If it isn't against the rules, why not call the old pastor and say 'Jack and Jill really cared about you. We want to continue taking them to church, although we can't attend X. Do you have any recommendations?'

This assumes there wasn't an issue with the last church....
posted by k8t at 7:55 AM on December 18, 2012

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