Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Saying Goodbye to 'My' Church
After a lot of soul-searching (no pun intended), my husband and I have decided it's time to find a new church home.
That may not seem like a big thing to a lot of people, and there was a time when it would not have been hard for me. It wasn't hard for me to leave my childhood church and I've drifted through a number of congregations during my adult years. But over the last six years my church has become a very important part of my life. I volunteered in the nursery and watched babies grow up. I trusted my Sunday school class like best friends. The people I saw there every Sunday and sometimes at other times became as precious as family. There are people I hug and kiss and say "I love you" and mean it from the bottom of my heart.
But in the last three weeks, things have changed, as they often do.
Initially it felt like a death, like someone I cared for had been taken from me. I couldn't believe it was gone. That the music and preaching I'd looked forward to each Sunday wouldn't be happening again was hard to grasp. At odd moments, I would weep. It hurt to drive by the building (still does, in fact).
For two Sundays I went back, hoping there was enough of what I loved to help me through the transition, but instead I found faces I loved missing. Not all of them, but enough to know that there would be no going back. I found myself crying during service because it wasn't what I wanted, what my soul craved, the way I needed to connect with God.
Now it feels more like divorce. The relationship is damaged beyond repair and I'm going to leave and try to start over.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it does feel like a divorce. There's the initial estrangement, and the fact that I still love and care for people I'll be leaving, and the fact that right now it's ugly and raw. And there's also the fact that like a marriage, a good relationship with a church requires some work and occasionally forgiveness and compromise. I've stuck it out before. It's not that I'm unwilling to work out the kinks in a relationship. There was betrayal before and it hurt, but it was clear cut and so obviously wrong that the congregation didn't split although there were gradually a number of people who left.
This time I'm one of the people leaving and like all those who vacated their pews already, I'm not waiting to see how all the dust settles.
People outside of a church may look at it as a sign of what's wrong with Christianity, but the fact is that although we may be a group of people who are Christians, we are still people. We are subject to the same desires and needs as everyone else and our efforts to get through life will follow different paths. We all may be genuinely trying to follow the same guidelines for doing so, but read our instruction manual (the Bible) differently. Just as Americans in general want the best for their country, yet sometimes split along ugly lines in politics, we are not always united in the path we see as best for our churches.
When that happens, we disagree and sometimes the disagreement is severe enough to split churches. Until I went through it, I didn't really understand why a group of people with the same goal couldn't get along. Now I do. The same things that divide us in our communities still make their way into church, regardless of how we try.
I realize that sometimes we choose to stick it out, expecting the tide to shift or deciding that the things that are not affected by a change -- maybe something as solid as proximity or family tradition -- are enough to see us through. Sometimes we watch the accumulating changes like weights being piled on a scale until it tilts and we decide the things that would keep us coming are outweighed and cannot hold us.
I'm still grieving for the fact that wherever I land, a large group of people that I dearly love won't be there and for a while, at least, I'll be struggling to fit into a new place. But six years ago, I was still feeling my way at the church that until recently felt like home, so I know it's a task worth doing.
Worship is too important to me to let it slide or let it be anything less than fulfilling. My relationship with my God demands it of me.