Two Churches

1 min

Growing up in a religiously diverse family taught Paul Staley lessons that weren’t necessarily in the sacred texts.

I have come to appreciate that my parents’ greatest gift to me wasn’t an act of generosity as much as an expression of stubbornness.

My Mom was Catholic, and according to the Church, her children should have been as well. But my Dad, a Presbyterian, wouldn’t go along with that. So they struck a compromise: daughters would be baptized as Catholics and sons as Presbyterians. So each Sunday we went our separate ways: my mother and sister off to Mass, while my brother, my dad and I went to services at our church.

We were the only family in our neighborhood that regularly attended church. It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me that our parents’ religious diligence was likely not just an expression of faith, but also an obligation created by this arrangement. Having insisted that both of their faiths be passed on to their children, they could not afford to slack off. The only way to honor the compromise was to keep going to church.

Now my father was a difficult personality. The parent I really loved was my Mom. But in the context of my parents’ arrangement this meant that I grew up very aware that the person I loved the most in the world practiced a different religion than I.

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All those years of Sundays, of hymns, offering plates and the tedium of the sermons are a blur to me now. Somewhere along the line I stopped going to church. But at the same time I continued the family tradition of combining religions under one roof. My wife is Jewish, and although I did not convert, we raised our sons as Jews.

Years such as this when Hanukkah and Christmas overlap are especially sweet to me. A house with both a menorah and a Christmas tree is the perfect place to appreciate that the gift my parents gave me was this lesson: that the differences between us need not divide us, but rather become a way to measure just how great our love for each other can be.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.