Two years ago, Kyle Dodig wasn't sure he believed in God.
That realization led the 38-year-old, self-proclaimed lapsed Catholic to spend a year reading the Bible, searching for ways to bring faith back into his life.
This year, Dodig hit the road in his quest for spiritual discovery. He has vowed to visit a different house of worship every weekend for 12 months.
Call it window shopping for the soul.
Dodig, who lives in Monmouth County, N.J., said he hopes the journey will eventually provide him with a regular home for spiritual discovery. At this point, Dodig has crossed a few places off the list. For instance, at a church in Times Square in New York, where he was surrounded by thousands of people chanting and signing in a dozen languages, Dodig felt lost amid the commotion.
And at the Faith Fellowship Ministries Church in Sayreville, N.J., there simply was too much singing for his taste (he prefers to hear the Scriptures).
During a visit to Faith Chapel in his hometown of Union Beach, however, Dodig said he started to feel at home. The service was attended by just a few dozen people and a small rock band accompanying the priest.
"Even though it's local, I might wind up there. I liked it a lot," said Dodig.
Dodig's other visits have been to Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Unitarian and interdenominational churches.
"My goal is, ultimately, to find a church where I can go and where I can hear those stories in a way that touches me and affects me. So I guess you could say I'm sort of comparison shopping," said Dodig, who works as a supervisor at the Monmouth County landfill.
A recent study of 35,000 U.S. adults by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed significant shifts in religious affiliation among Americans, with 44 percent of adults having left their childhood denominations for another religious affiliation, or none at all.
For many people, spirituality fulfills a fundamental need for a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, said Andrew Getraer, executive director for Rutgers Hillel at Rutgers University.
"Human beings have the need to feel some connection to something greater than ourselves," Getraer said. "For understanding how the world works the way it does. And for many, religion is the way of fulfilling those needs."
Dodig, who is divorced and has no children, said he cannot pinpoint when faith stopped being a priority in his life. It was a gradual decline, he said, despite years of his mother bringing him and his two brothers to church every week when they were children.
Though he tried attending church again as an adult, Dodig said he felt a disconnect.
But in 2006 he noticed a Good News Bible on a table at his cousin's house and thumbed through it curiously. Soon, he bought a chronological Bible, a modern English translation divided into 365 chapters, one to read each day.
"Before last year, I was terrible with all this," Dodig said. "I didn't know who came first, Jesus or Moses. I had studied those things when I was younger, but it was all a blur."
Dodig said he found the Old Testament gloomy, and admitted it was hard going at times. God "seemed like an angry God. They kept talking about having a loving God, but if you didn't do exactly what he wanted, you're dead. It was brutal. I got sick of it after a while."
When he got to the New Testament, however, Dodig said he found more inspiration. He read stories that he didn't realize had biblical origins. Somewhere along the way, he started to see how the stories fit together.
"I just said, `Wow, this is amazing stuff.' It was at that point I realized I needed to do more."
That led him to his current 52-week journey. Dodig decided he wanted to hear those stories spoken aloud and discussed so he could find the deeper meaning.
Now, a few months into his search, Dodig said he is leaning toward joining a Baptist church. He enjoys the messages offered during services, and he likes that worshippers are invited to open their Bibles and follow along.
One thing is certain, Dodig said. He must remain committed to his yearlong plan to regain faith.
"If I don't keep at it, keep moving forward in this, I know it'll be something that fades," he said. "And I'll start to forget about it, and eventually it'll disappear from my life. Just like it did before."
(Allison Steele writes for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)