Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leaving church

My family never moved when I was a child, so I have always been fascinated by the stories of people who have uprooted.  But I think instead of tracing my family’s journey on a map, we could mark our path in the church homes we have been a part of and the churches we have left.  There was my childhood church where I was baptized and had my first crush on our pastor.  My family left there in a church split over a pastor vote and went to start a new church.  This was the church where I learned to be a leader and a servant, the place where I found a second home and family.  It was also where I learned that women are not supposed to be called to ministry. 

There was the church where I explored my calling and found a passion for working with youth and young adults, the one I loved so much that I lied on the membership form where they asked me to sign stating I believed in a literal seven-day creation.  There were transitional churches during seminary where we worked for the paycheck and the experience but found that they gave something more in return.  They accepted our youthful idealism and the foolishness of our newfound “wisdom” and gently showed us that there was much to learn and unlearn.  There are churches that make you, and those that break you, and some that are a bittersweet in-between.

As our family leaves our current church, I wonder how I will share the story with our children in the future.  “This was the church where you were dedicated, and this was the church where I baptized you.  This is where you shared in communion for the first time and read scripture standing on a stepstool from the pulpit.  This is where you sang with the children’s choir and everyone remarked on how they loved to watch you sing.  This is the church you first attended in my womb.  After our first visit, it would take a few weeks for our return, but then you were beside me in the pew in your infant carrier, or in my arms.  The music and liturgy became part of your baby dreams.  We watched you move up from the nursery and run off to your Sunday School classes.  I loved watching you skip into the sanctuary before worship, excited to tell me stories from your lesson.  We made friends here.” 
But how do we explain the leaving?

I don’t know the answer yet.  The wounds and the grief are still fresh.  Sometimes we stay out of habit, like in a bad relationship that we just can’t break.  Sometimes the leaving is easy.  But sometimes there is a breaking even though it feels like what must be done.  We want to know what will last, to trust that God can restore what has been broken.  I want to put my commitment into a place where we can serve and worship, knowing that it will not be perfect, but believing that it will be good again.  I want that for my old church, the Church universal, and for the future church that will receive us in all our hopefulness and fear.  It is not the first time we have been on this path, but faith means stepping out, even though we are not sure where the journey will take us, trusting that God is leading us home again.

For more of my blog posts about path in and out of the church, click here.

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