Rarely am I a brave writer. I hedge my bets and worry about what people think. I shy away from pulling back the curtain even though I know I overestimate my scope of influence. While I type, edit, delete, retype, delete, repeat, a litany of what-if’s flash through my mind, the most haunting being, “What if I say something that causes someone to go sideways spiritually?”
But today I take a small but necessary step away from needing your approval and acknowledge the fact that I do not have the power to lead you astray.
Here goes: I gave up church for Lent last year and haven’t gone back.
- By ‘church’ I mean the large Sunday morning gathering.
- By ‘haven’t gone back’ I mean that while I’ve visited and even preached at large gatherings that take place on Sunday morning, sitting in a room with several hundred people, singing songs, and listening to a sermon has not been part of my spiritual formation process for nine months.
Instead I’ve taken long walks, prayed with my feet, eaten big breakfasts, sat and talked in my living room, and experienced Sabbath. About halfway into this very different routine I started having dinner with a group of people on Sunday nights. They have been gracious to make room for me at their table and for now that is my connection to the Body.
There are things I miss about corporate worship. I miss voices lifting up lyrics, both old and new, that remind us of the goodness, greatness, and sufficiency of our God. I miss the Eucharist. I miss how sacred silence is when observed together. I miss moments when the ancient text captures and directs us. But I do not miss leaving frustrated and feeling disconnected.
I’m trying to be grateful for the ache for community I carry. It means I have not resigned my life to an existence, right? But I can’t help but wonder is something is broken…in me…in church…in both? Or is something changing…in me…in church…in both? Or is it both of the both’s?
I’m in no place to answer those questions today. I just wanted to be honest about where I am. However, I am prepared to make one declaration: I know I am not alone. There are a lot of us who find ourselves with thoughts and feelings about the Bride who nurtured us…and we’re not sure we can speak them aloud. The other evening a new friend took the risk and shared his experience. “Week after week I’d go [to church] thinking, ‘This is the week I meet some people…some guys…and finally I’ll feel apart,’ but it never happened.”
I’m definitely not angry. Probably a little sad. But honestly I’m optimistic – it’s like there is a new threshold ahead for the Church in the west, a liminal space of leaving and entering. There is trepidation. There is excitement. There is recognition that, as Christine Valters Paintner says, “When we begin to cross the threshold, we are confronted with the greatness of our unknowing. We are called to recognize that we do not know what the future brings. This allows us to rest in humility rather than theological platitudes.” And there is trust in the One who is near and at work.