We have had a very busy weekend, and the stress level around the house has been higher than normal. Nothing serious, nothing dramatic…just life and work for Steve that is demanding. It does mean tht we’ve been a little more snippy and a little less patient and a little less aware of all around us.
Maybe that framework is what set me up for Sunday morning feeling such an appreciation for our church fellowship. We’ve been part of this congregation for nearing 4 years and while relationships have grown and we have a place in the life of this body, there are days that it still feels new and I still walk away breathing a prayer of thanks for finding a place that is so integral to our life.
I have many friends and acquaintances who have had experiences that leave them either frustrated or even hating the church. There are some cases where genuine abuse has happened at the hands of those who were to care for people, not harm. These leaders have taken advantage and have harmed and the ramifications are serious. There is righteous anger against these leaders and there are conversations which have to take place as those who have been harmed physically and spiritually in a church setting try to understand and heal and move beyond and bring justice. All of that is emotional and difficult and frustrating and painful.
Most of my friends have had more disappointment with the church than actual abuse. Leaders have not led well. They have not listened or they had an agenda that they were not willing to sway. Sometimes it has been our faults as congregation members to join a church that had a clear vision and then be mad when they didn’t change to meet our vision.
There are all kinds of stories of frustration, of disappointment, of abuse, of….fill in the blank. There are a multitude of blogs given to the conversation of how awful these leaders are and how hurt the congregants have become. Some of those conversation are valid, and some of them are picking at scabs and being mad when others don’t want to join the fun.
So…whew. That is a long set-up to what I really wanted to share. I have had some fantastic church experiences, having been part of nine different congregations as I have moved from New Mexico to California to Tennessee to Washington to Vancouver and back to Tennessee. I’ve also had some disappointments. And we’ve found ourselves in some places where we just didn’t fit…it wasn’t anyone’s fault, we just didn’t fit.
We have found where we fit. The worship is what we have sought…simple and no spotlight on an individual, and we can hear the congregation sing! The teaching is verse-by-verse which we love. The children’s department is creative and engaging. The nursery is clean and the children are loved and cared for.
Here is what I truly love, though. Friday night we came together for a Chocolate Festival. I would guess there were 300 or so folks, and the goal was to raise money for Blood:Water Mission. Everyone brought chocolate and we had raffles and cake walks and art to raise money; $3000 was raised! There was laughter and conversation and eating and simply being together, in the sanctuary of an old Catholic school (where we meet). My kids were running around and I watched as Sammy would walk and those who knew him would reach out and touch him as he went by. They didn’t necessarily speak to him, as they were engaged in conversations, but they would touch his shoulder or pat his head. He would look up and grin and keep on to wherever he was headed.
My kids are known in this congregation. There are adults who have listened to their stories, or to my stories about them, and have paid attention and know my children. More than that, they are aware of my children and my children know that. That is enormous in our world today.
Sunday morning we heard a message on Psalm 77. We walked in and saw 6 pink balloons celebrating six months of life of a baby who was not supposed to live outside the womb. We heard Kim pray for the needs and the joys of the congregation. By name, without rush and with knowledge. Then Jim taught us that it is okay to doubt and to struggle and to be disappointed…even with God. He spoke with compassion and with grace and also with challenge that at some point we have to speak to our mind and our heart and our will and we have to remember.
10 And I said, “This is my anguish;
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the works of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will also meditate on all Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.
We have leadership in this congregation that lives out their walk with a confident humility and sets the tone for a church where there is freedom to struggle and to question and to pray and to rejoice and to laugh and to eat chocolate with a purpose. There is great diversity in our congregation, and while I am sure there are those who have struggled there and have been disappointed…because no where is the place where everyone is going to fit perfectly…there is something really special about this congregation.
Why this post? Well, I guess I was aware this week of those who have been very focused on the negative of the Church. There is plenty to focus on if that is what you are looking for, and sometimes there is a season to focus and call out things that are wrong. This weekend, though, I was struck by the life of this place where I and my family belong. I was struck by the laughter of my kids in church and the fact that they very rarely whine about going…they like being there. I was struck by the maturity and confidence of our leadership, and also their humility and lack of “celebrity”ness. I was struck by the blessing of being able to be known by a group of people and the fact that we didn’t make it out of the parking lot for 45 minutes after the service was over as we talked with friends.
I was struck by the fact that in the midst of a week that had drained us emotionally and physically and mentally, I walked out of the service Sunday with joy and refreshed and challenged and renewed. It was not just the words that were spoken…it was the life of the place and that was made up by the parts all creating a unique whole.
So, if you’ve hit a place of disappointment or frustration or anger toward the church, maybe spend some time finding those who are rejoicing and renewed and hopeful in their congregations. There are lots of them out there. Find a place where there is laughter and tears, questioning and worshipping…and life. Spend your season being mad and be done with it. Remember the works of the Lord and find the place where you can rejoice in being part of the work. This video is from our congregation….