Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Healing Place

I've been trying to figure out my situation concerning where I go to church. I was a dedicated "every time the doors are open" church goer during most of my Christian life--over 25 years--until the past two or three years, when I just stopped going. I would say it was my schedule--often true--but a lot of times I wasn't getting much out of church. Sermons were not challenging me, but boring me. One of my best friends in the world moved to the other side of the state of Missouri. I felt uncomfortable when I did go, and so gradually, I just stopped going. It seemed I had lost the connection with the congregation I had been a part of since 1989, both with the pastors and with the people.

It is possible to be a Christian, and not go to church. However, the majority of people do not do well alone. They need the connection and fellowship that being part of a church congregation brings. The church is a place to practice the things Jesus taught about serving and forgiving and loving. In addition, the church is a place to worship, and to be taught about the faith. For myself, it took a couple years, but when it was time, God was more than willing to give me a wake up call, by unraveling a different part of my life. I was convicted of my need to go to church. But where should I go? I felt really awkward going back to where I had been going, even though since I stopped going, there had been a pastoral change. In fact, I felt awkward even thinking about going to churches of the same denomination. I was at something of an impasse. And a certain inertia had taken over; once you get out of a habit, it's hard to get back into it.

I looked around, and hit on a solution. The biggest church in our area, the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, had services in the evening, 5 pm both Saturday and Sunday. I could go there. The getting up in the morning thing? No excuse there with the late services. Theologically, there was no problem. My own denomination had emerged from the Methodist church, and both denominations looked to the 18th century preacher and evangelist John Wesley for inspiration. So I started going to COR, as it is known, in August. I would have been there one week earlier, but I had a flat tire that weekend--that should have been my first clue I was on the right track.

The worship was wonderful. Tears welled up in my eyes the first two weeks I went; me remembering the joy of corporate worship, singing and praying together. The preaching was engaging and challenging. The people, warm and welcoming, even though the church is truly enormous. Since I started I have been singing in the informal Sunday evening choir, and lending my nursing expertise to the emergency/medical team.

As I enjoyed the church and its resources, and made my contributions in service, I began to wonder, is this the place for me? I do have problems with the United Methodist Church as a whole; the denomination, taken in toto is too liberal for this evangelical Christian. So odds are, my membership will remain where it is. Is this a long term place for me? I don't know; it's the place that God seems to want me now, and that's good enough for me. Finally, it came to me. It's a place for me to heal. A healing place, to borrow a phrase. The phrase is borrowed from Capt Schmoe, and his blog Report on Conditions. It's the way he describes his station in the Kinda Big Fire Protection District. His station is a place where people can go when they have a need to step out of the busy-ness and urgency of busier fire stations for a little while. The longer I considered the parallels, the more right I felt I was in my perception. Ever since I was a baby Christian, there was a pressure to lead, and to teach. When I told people I felt I had a call to full time ministry, this pressure to "do" became even more intense. I have done much in work for the Kingdom, but in many ways have not felt recognized. Perhaps I misread the idea of a call to ministry, or missed exactly what it was I was to do. The institutional church, the denomination I was/am a part of, both formally and in the local church, did not seem to confirm the presence of my spiritual gifts or my calling. I felt maybe, just a little rejected, and I think this may be part of my reluctance to start back up with church "as it was." At COR, this pressure is relieved. There is no expectation put upon me. I can serve or not. I can serve in practical ministries, present in scads, since the church is so big. I can sing, and find that I am one of 7 or 8 in my vocal range, not just 2 or 3. I can take the skills I have from my work life, and apply them directly in service to God's people as they come to worship through the emergency team.

It is well known that the point of connection in large churches such as COR is in small groups. Once a church gets over about 150 in Sunday morning worship service, it becomes difficult for the worship service to serve as the main entry point into deeper relationships for people. That is the next step for me on this journey, joining a small group and forming deeper relationships. It has already been happening in the choir to a small degree. I am trusting God to lead me on this journey. He has been leading so far, and He has not lead me wrong yet.


Capt. Schmoe said...

Everyone needs a Healing Place. I am glad you found yours. Like you I struggle with the liberal theology of the UM church. However, every Christmas, I go back to the church of my youth along with my parents - Wesley UM church.

For me, a different kind of healing place.

Thanks for the plug and the post.

the observer said...

Capt. Schmoe:

It hit me all at once, the parallel. The feelings I have are not from any failure on the part of the church or denomination I was attending, but from my own warps and woofs. Sometimes you just need to turn down the intensity for a while.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I have struggled with organized religion all my life, because I believe at times it machined me into places where my conscience could not reconcile.

Many people who profess faith seem to use it as a bludgeon on others. It's always a big relief to me to see when it's aimed toward making the believer a better person, instead of some other, lesser uplift.

Churches attend to glory with I think the big congregations, give a sense of universal love. But the specifics are always personal. There is a saying I believe of Pope John XXIII--(summarized) "is the kingdom of God a pearl, or a seed? something precious to be saved and treasured, or something to be planted in the dirt and grow?"

So i wish you well on your journey, a grown faith and a precious one.

Sorry I didn't get here earlier. This is a wonderful post. I am afraid my comments are not organized enough to do it justice.

Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T.

Thank you for reading. I am always sorry to hear that "organized religion" turned someone off to God. The problem is that the church is full of sinners, some of which are still sinning. It can be disconcerting to find the same power plays and other nonsense you see in any other human organization.

When I get annoyed with my fellow churchgoers I always remember that the model is Jesus Christ Himself, not His very imperfect church.

The Observer