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Being A Church Kid Until I Wasn't

Is the music, is the show keeping you too?

By Joe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!Published 13 days ago 4 min read
Being A Church Kid Until I Wasn't
Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

There are bad kids and good kids.

I’m one of the good kids. You know why?

I’m a six-year-old little boy at St. John the Evangelist, the local Catholic school. Mom and dad plant us at church every Sunday, five pews from the front. Sister Mary Jude quizzes every Monday morning, asking what the Gospel was about at Mass the day before.

I’m one of the good kids who pays attention, one of the few who knows the answer Monday morning and I beam with pride.

The other kids? Not so much. Their parents mustn’t review it and quiz them on the drive home from church. Or else they’re too lazy to care.

In time I become an altar boy. One of the best.

The other boys are okay, but they get distracted, thinking of other things. I’m reliable, reverential and strict with myself, enjoying my time up on the altar in front of the congregation, participating through pre-teen years.

Classmates joke, Well if anyone’s gonna be a priest, it’ll be Joe, and I hate them for it. More than anything I’d love to be a normal kid. Hmm, maybe I could be a priest… I’d love to give nuanced speeches from the pulpit, all eyes on me, to dazzle people with my way of words. I’d be good at that.

But no, I can’t take all the vows just for a chance to perform from the altar.

By David Beale on Unsplash

My voice changes around age 12 and I’m one of the youngest to join the adult choir. Such fun, being up in the choir loft with other creatives, prepping for the next musical cue, looking down upon the congregation and the show, from above. Other kids my age are out chasing girls, defying adults, up to mischief, but I’m one of the good ones, attending choir practices and making it to church every Sunday without fail, to sing.

High school — a Catholic school, of course. I join the folk group. A guitar-wielding bunch, we stand before the entire school during Masses, leading them in song, performing the ceremonial parts. I’m in my happy place. I look out at the peers who aren’t paying attention. I’m one of the good ones.

Four years later, a Catholic college too, if you can believe it.

There’s a chapel for Sunday morning Masses. I opt to join the small singing troupe and again happily sing before a thin congregation. I’m aware of all the drinking and partying on campus the night before. All the hook-ups and sexual conquests. No wonder so few come to Mass in the morning like me — I’m one of the good ones.

I’m always here. I’m up front in the spotlight singing. I’m seen. I’m… I’m…

It hits me like a ton of bricks.

I’m only here because I’m performing.

By Anderson W Rangel on Unsplash

I scan my memories.

All these years, since age 12, I’ve only been able to get through Mass, to tolerate Mass, because I’ve had something to do, something to distract me from being a simple believer in the pews.

Could I even make it through a Mass if I had to just sit there and listen? Or would I have to face the uncomfortable fact that I’ve slowly started disagreeing with most of what’s postulated? Would I be able to hide my smirk as I silently disagree with the Nicene Creed when we recite that we’re the one holy Catholic and apostolic church, that we acknowledge only one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins?

How long have I disagreed with that?

How long have I feared for my future as a potential gay kid, now young man, if I continue in this organization?

I stand up here in judgement of my fellow college kids who aren’t here at church. But, I’m only here for the wrong reasons — to stand up here like someone more special than the average churchgoer, to judge others, even though… whoa… I don’t feel an actual connection to any of it. I don’t actually believe.

I’ve been going through the motions for my parents, for adult approval only, never daring to voice, let alone think a dissenting opinion. The singing is just my armor, distracting my brain just enough to get through.

I’m labeling myself as good, as better than others not coming to church. But I’m here under false pretenses, for all the wrong reasons. If there’s anything I despise, it’s a hypocrite.

By Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Moments after having this revelation amidst that small huddle of singers in the chapel in 1993, my second year of college, I stepped away from the Church. My faith was false, an obligation only, with the incentive of stroking my actor/performer bug.

The growing sexual abuse scandals made this all the easier. It was time to find my own spirituality, my own version of church.

But I left wondering.

How many others would enjoy the Mass, would be able to sit through the service with their nagging thoughts and questions, if they weren’t distracting themselves by being up on the altar, taking part in the show?

Thanks for reading words written by a real human for real humans. This story was first published on


About the Creator

Joe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!

Joe Guay is a recovering people-pleaser who writes on Travel, Showbiz, LGBTQ life, humor and the general inanities of life. He aims to be "the poor man's" David Sedaris. You're welcome!

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