The Atheist Goes to Church

Noah Hapke - Ecuador


October 6, 2015

When I first had the idea to write this blog, I actually started with this title. I debated about titling it “Take Me [An Atheist] to Church” in honor of Hozier, but I didn’t think many people would get it. And, whereas this title is not meant to diminish the meaning of religion, nor is it to ridicule those who put their faith in a higher power, I still wanted to make it “somewhat” comical – just by the mere idea of me going to church.


Before this year, I could 100% say that I am atheist; this position still stands strong. And, sadly, after spending four hours at a religious ceremony this past weekend, I still do believe I will become plant soil in the very end.


However, this blog post is not about that. It’s about my experience this past weekend with my family in San Juan, Azuay, Ecuador. The night prior, Saturday, I had told my mom that I would be sleeping in because “yo tengo mucho cansado.” Yet, when I woke up at nine that morning and walked to the cocina to find an empty kitchen, I was somewhat stumped. Patricia, my host mom, did not return from Gualaceo until eleven and, not until then, did we all eat breakfast.


Afterwards, my mom asked if I would be going to church that same morning and, of course, I said yes. (Side-note: When Patricia asked me earlier if my family went to church in the U.S. I said no because we were always busy on Sundays. I didn’t technically lie, just like I didn’t technically lie by saying I don’t have a girlfriend because I like to work.) As I watched all the girls put on their dresses and the moms fix their hair, I decided to go home and change myself. If I’m going to be a gringo at church, might as well be a somewhat-nice-looking gringo.


When I came back, Patricia rejoiced with her typical “Vamos!” and we were all out the door. But, because my house is full of women, when all of them aligned themselves in the parade full of other women, I froze. Where was I supposed to go now? Back to the cocina? Duh.


My abolita was still getting dressed inside, so I had gotten lucky. I waited for her and then we walked over to church together. When we arrived, mass had already started and we had to push our ways to the front. 'Where did you sit?' you’re probably wondering. Well, my abolita found a cozy spot on the wooden-fence-bar-holy-chair-thingy. I, however, got lucky enough with the floor. I really don’t do well with standing for long periods of time (long periods are anything over 45 seconds), and, after twenty minutes or so, I plopped myself on the floor. Looking around, I could tell that people were thinking “what on earth is this gringo doing?” To be completely honest, I was kind of thinking the same thing. But I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together, sat Christ-cross-apple-sauce, and prayed to science to get me through this service.


When it was all over, I walked outside and all the moms and aunts, and abolita too, were already walking in another parade. As more and more people followed this massive clump, I figured I might as well do the same. And we walked. And walked. And walked. All around the community of San Juan, which is a good thirty minute walk when you are trying to walk slowly while carrying a giant Jesus on your shoulders.


Afterwards, we ended back in front of the church, and I was greeted with a little dance fiesta in the middle of town. Standing with my mom and the rest of the family, a girl, who later became Ruth, came up to me and asked to dance. And I did as every Global Citizen Year Fellow should do and shriek “NO!” But Ruth insisted, and we danced together for everyone to see. What was so ironic about the situation though is that Ruth lives in Cuenca (five minutes from my Spanish class), lived in New York last year for university (estados unidos), and is currently studying to be a teacher (what are the odds!).


Then Patricia asked if I wanted to watch Michael, my brother, ride a horse. I thought this would mean another ten minute parade, watching Michael trot around the center of town. But no, it resulted in a four-hour horse show in the campo; about fifteen boys my age riding around on horses for the fiesta de las familias de San Juan. I can’t even explain the situation other than just by saying: mucho caballos.


This eventful night finished at about eight, so once I returned to the house I was out. But it just goes to show that church can be fun. Or maybe not, maybe it was just the horse show that I really liked. But, in the end, it was a great Sunday, and I feel so #blessed to have been a part of it.

Noah Hapke