For those of you following my blog, you have been reading, in my last few posts, about my “Summer of Rest”. In addition to recovering from an overbusy life, my “Summer of Rest” was also supposed to give me the time and space I needed to figure out where the heck I was going in terms of my future in ministry.
At the beginning of the summer, I was not at all sure that the Church was a place where I wanted to stay. I was recovering from some fairly traumatic experiences in the Church. We had left my longtime faith community (Liturgical Church) due to some unexpected theological disparities between myself and the new Pastor. We had moved into another faith community (Missional Church) that looked extremely promising. Upon further inspection, however, after a year of trial membership, I discovered some theological differences, not between myself and the Pastors, but between myself and the denominational doctrine. In the case of both churches, the differences had nothing to do with any of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. They were in the areas of the practices, customs and governance of the Church- but they were big enough to preclude my being ordained in either denomination. It would be an understatement to say that I was frustrated and sad about where I could best fit in the Church, and how I could express the gifts and passions that I believed God had given me for ministry. After spending an enormous amount of time, energy and money, to earn a degree that was supposed to help me secure a vocation in the Church, let’s just say I was not exactly in the most promising position. I had no home church and the arduous task ahead of trying to find a church that would accept me- otherwise known as the dreaded “church shopping”.
I was beginning to go down the road of “maybe I will just have to be content with being Spiritual but not Religious”…………
I have a joyfully enriching career teaching young children. I have many opportunities to practice end of life care and support for my Mother in the nursing home. I am helping others heal and grow in my 12 Step recovery community. I am planning to embrace the practice of minimalism and simplicity by selling or donating most of my possessions. I already have plenty of ministry opportunities in my “right now” everyday life. Maybe God wanted me to just embrace those and get on with making the most of each gift of 24 hours that I was given. Spiritual- but not religious. Yeah……that just might work for me.
Not so much…….
For better, or for worse, I am a daughter of the Church. When I say and write the word “Church”, you may notice that I usually use a capital “C”. There is a reason for this. I believe in the “Church Universal”, which is ALL of the people, throughout ALL of the world, throughout ALL time, who profess a living faith in Jesus Christ. Not an organization. Not a hierarchy. Not a building or a collection of denominational offices. The people, whom the Apostle Paul refers to as the Body of Christ, are the Church.
The people of the Church have nurtured me and brought me up in the faith. The people of the Church have welcomed me, prayed with me, listened to me, laughed with me and cried with me. They have been there for me in times of abundance and times of lack. They have welcomed me back from a lonely and painful exile. They have helped me discern my call to ministry and wrestle with the difficult questions. They have contributed to my Seminary tuition. They have welcomed my husband and loved him into their midst. They have supported us in our marriage and come alongside of us when we have struggled in that marriage. They have served with me, ministered with me, laid hands on people with me, studied the Bible and taught Sunday School with me. They have mentored me and broken bread with me. They have challenged me and caused me to grow in my faith. They have taught me how to lovingly disagree. They have prayed with my Mother and loved her back into the Church after her own 35 year exile. They have visited my Mother in the nursing home and brought her chocolate and Communion. We have sung songs of praise and worship together. We have had some pretty amazing potluck suppers. We have washed each other’s feet and dried each other’s tears.
With one exception, every person on my “who would you call at 3am with an emergency” list is a Church person- from different local churches and denominations (notice the use of lowercase “c” here). Some are Roman Catholic. Some are Anglican. Some are Congregational. Some are Baptist. Some are Pentecostal. All of them are faithful followers of Jesus. I know and trust that every single one of them would be there for me at 3am.
But back to where I began this piece……my “Summer of Rest” and the thought that maybe I could be OK with being “Spiritual but not Religious”. I was frustrated with the church as an institution and thinking that maybe my Seminary experience was just designed to help me become a better person. Fortunately, for me, there is a little church on the island of Cuttyhunk. It is the only church building on the island. For this reason, it houses all different types of Church people, who seem to be able to come together every Sunday, for July and August, and just be the Church. It is in this little church building, that God gave me back my love for the Church. It is in this little church building that God told me, through the human instruments of Rector Ned, Pastor Wes, Layleader Tim, friends of God Lisa and Tom, and and many others whose names I have not been blessed to learn yet- that I belong in the Church and that, much as I may want to leave sometimes, there is truly nowhere else for me to go.
Jesus called His followers the Church. The word He uses in the Greek is Ekklesia, and it roughly translates as “a called out assembly”. That has nothing to do with a building. Or a hierarchy. Or an organization. Jesus tells His disciple Peter that His Church will be built upon the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. There is no question in my mind that Jesus was talking about the people who would choose to follow Him. A group of broken, human, frail witnesses who would change the world; who would feed the hungry, heal the sick, cast out the demons, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, visit the prisoner, care for the orphans and the widows, bring people the Good News of salvation and teach others to follow in their footsteps.
I do not believe, for a minute, that it was an accident that Rector Ned’s sermon topics for the past two Sundays were “Why Spiritual but not Religious Is not an Option” and “Why Religious but not Spiritual is not an Option Either”. No joke. Those were his topics. THE EXACT QUESTIONS THAT I HAVE BEEN PRAYING ABOUT ALL SUMMER. Were. His. Sermon. Topics. I hope I am not the only person who sees how TOTALLY AWESOME that is (yes- TOTALLY- Pastor Howard).
I love the Church and the Church loves me. For better, or for worse. The followers of Jesus are my people. Sometimes we hurt each other. Sometimes we forgive each other. We often meet in buildings but sometimes we meet in caves, or living rooms, or around someone’s table. We have organizational structures because that is how we avoid anarchy. Is it the best system? It is not. Still, we keep on keeping on, because that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. We are far, so far, from perfect. We are broken and messy and definitely do not have all the answers. I am still not sure where God is going with all of this. I am still not sure what the end result will be, but I am hanging in with the Church for the ride.
Hi, My name is Christine…..I am Spiritual AND Religious. I love the Church and the Church loves me. Bring on the shopping cart!!