How the most secular Western nation got me to go to church

6 February 2012

On Wednesday afternoons the local church hosts a Christianity-themed playgroup for village children. The first year-and-a-half we did not send Little Girl, not being (to say the least) church-goers. But Little Girl started asking to attend, as I would come to pick her up from dagis at the same time the kyrkis kiddos were being walked across the road from the school to the church, and she was disappointed not to join them. If your kid is signed up for kyrkis on the day they are in daycare, they get taken and returned by the church staff. In practical terms, this means you also get extra free childcare, since you don’t pay for kyrkis.

Which isn’t why, two weeks ago, we started letting Little Girl go. She just didn’t want to be left out of this mysterious extra activity all the other girls were getting to do (almost all the five-year-olds in our village are girls.) She’s a little out-of-the-loop as it is, with her language barrier and reserved personality, plus not having joined this close-knit group until they were already four years old, so I didn’t want there to be one extra thing she was left out of. And Little Girl, so far, thinks kyrkis is fun. They purportedly play kitchen and get to use “real hammers!” to force nails into blocks of wood. (I was alarmed they were reenacting nailing Jesus to the cross when I realized they were probably just talking about how he was a carpenter.)

Sunday the kyrkis kiddos were supposed to sing in the afternoon church service and Little Girl was intended to be among them. Since she’d only attended twice and didn’t know the songs I didn’t want her to feel pressured to go up there to sing in front of everyone (she’s shy enough as it is) but we would go and watch. It would be good for her to know what to expect since they are scheduled to sing there a couple times later in the year.

Additionally, at that service they were going to light candles for all of the babies born in the village in 2011, of which there turned out to be six. Only one other family besides ours showed up to light the candle in person. Little Girl had wanted to help me with that task, but, at the front of the church, backed out and sat on the floor and loudly declared the fire “spooky.” Then I failed multiple times to light it myself, and Husband kept informing me loudly of this in English whenever I turned around to pick up Little Girl, who was still lying on the floor in an agony of shyness. Finally we got to hustle back to our seats, slamming the little pew door as we sat down. The classy Americans strike again!

At the service we discovered Baby Brother has a hidden talent: being good at church. He looked around calmly, even when babies cried (normally he is scared of crying babies) and then started to get fussy in that pre-naptime kind of way during a nice, loud, hymn, and was asleep in my arms by the time the sermon started. A sermon I desperately tried to follow but didn’t even get the gist of, what with the formal religious language and the background of crying babies (evidently Swedes do not customarily remove their crying babies from churches). I did, however, enjoy the careful and clear pronunciation of the Swedish words I did catch.

Though I’m conflicted, personally, about having Little Girl attend a church group, at least her language deficits will be a benefit there, since she likely isn’t totally catching what they are talking about when they get to the religious part of their curriculum. She will sometime, of course, and then we’ll have a nice talk about the varieties of ideas people have about the universe. It’s not a bad thing to be exposed to new views and the extra time for socialization and language development won’t hurt, either.

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5 Responses to “How the most secular Western nation got me to go to church”

  1. megalagom Says:

    I think that its great to have her in that new environment, especially if she is shy and her language isn’t up to speed. The great thing about Swedish education is that it does actually teach about different religions, which is something that I never really got in the U.S. I felt very ignorant when talking to my husband who knows about all the differences and cultures. So even if she is in a church group, eventually she will learn about others as well.

  2. Annika Says:

    If she is curious, good for her. I hear you on not wanting her indoctrinated but I don’t think there’s anything wrong about learning a bit about Christianity BEFORE making up one’s mind later in life.

    The other thing about the Swedish Protestant church is that there’s a strong element of tradition there – meaning that even in sermons and church activities, it’s a lot less missionary than elsewhere (depending a little on where in Sweden you’re located). I sang in a church choir from age 6 to 15 or so, but I can’t remember any attempts on the part of the church of talking to me about God or making me believe in anything. I did it because the musical training was good and I really liked my choir director :).

    So no worries – I think she’ll preserve her critical capacities in spite of “kyrkis”! And maybe find some friends and learn some Swedish in the process.

  3. Sara Says:

    What an interesting cultural experience for all of you! I am actually struggling with a similar issue now, because Eggbert has a new little friend who is the daughter of, I kid you not, actual missionaries. I think they’re the first missionaries that I’ve ever met in real life. To my surprise (about which I am embarrassed), they are absolutely delightful people who have thus far made no attempt whatsoever to push their religion on us. If things continue as they have, I can see us becoming good friends. So, I’m trying to embrace the situation. I am nervous, though, that they’ll suddenly drop Eggbert (and the rest of us, but that doesn’t worry me so much) like a hot potato when they realize that we don’t exactly share their world view. Hopefully not, though. I have to admit that getting to know them has forced me to confront some of my own prejudices, which has been a bit painful, but also enlightening.

  4. a Says:

    We’re sending our daughter to the Lutheran church behind our house, because it’s convenient and there will be some kids from that school who go to the same elementary school. They are totally indoctrinating her – but I remain noncommittal on all the pronouncements she makes. I do ocassionally stir the pot by telling her we’re Catholic and don’t do it that way. I think that gives you a pretty good idea of my views on organized religion – I take none of it seriously. But it will be good for her to know some kids when she goes to kindergarten next year, and that’s my main focus.

  5. Rae Says:

    All of us non-religious folk, no matter where we live, eventually succumb to church activities for our kids I think. We just cannot match what they offer! My kids all eventually end up at Youth Group and their various sponsored activities including (cheap!!!) summer and winter camps, etc. Oh well. No indoctrination yet.


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