For some time, my seminary classes helped blunt this feeling: I do experience fellowship in school, so during the semester, I could experience connection to a sort of faith community. Now that I've been out for several weeks, churchlessness is starting to sink in.
I don't take it lightly. And it's not like I haven't tried. I've visited the local United Church of Christ (Congregational) church, as well as the Lutheran (ELCA) church. I still intend to visit the Episcopal church here in town - I've heard good things. And from time to time, I've visited my United Methodist Church from the last few years. It all remains different - foreign - because, by personal culture, I am an Evangelical. I view and relate to God as an Evangelical. I simply cannot socially or theologically be an Evangelical. It is a hard space to inhabit.
What's my problem? Why can't I settle? Part of the problem is that I've never stayed at a particular church for very long. Let me see if I an give a brief overview of my church-going experience (as far as I can remember)
- 1979 - 1987 - Albany Calvary Chapel; various non-denominational and Pentecostal churches; house churches; etc...
- 1988 - 1993 - Albany First Assembly of God
- 1993 - 1997 - Albany First Church of the Nazarene
- 1998 - 2002 - McMinnville Covenant Church
- 2002 - 2003 - Corvallis Calvary Chapel
- 2003 - 2005 - Albany First Assembly of God
- 2005 - 2007 - Lebanon River Springs Church (Disciples of Christ)
- 2007 - 2009 - Corvallis First United Methodist Church
To my knowledge, I have never been a church "member." It's always been easy to walk away. I believe the Church is supposed to function like a family - you don't walk away from that. Instead, my relationship to the Church has been more like dating relationships - I enjoy the "new relationship butterflies," and when those start to fade, my eyes start to wander. Greener grass on the other side...
I'm starting to feel convicted that the problem is clearly me: I'm looking for a "perfect fit" - a fantasy church that gives me what I need, strokes my ego, validates me, reflects a progressive social agenda, and still manages a feel-good Leave-It-To-Beaver church family environment.
I thought I had learned this lesson before. And I'm self-aware enough not to really think (or admit out loud) that the previous paragraph is what I'm looking for. But the dating analogy remains: we know it's immature, superficial and narcissistic to create long lists of ideal attributes for some would-be significant other. But we still live our lives, slaves to the fantasy. I confess, I haven't learned how to die to the lurid, exciting, captivating fantasy of the perfect church. I don't rationally believe in it. But I still conduct my life under the tyranny of its possibility. An ecclesial wet dream.
This morning I played Jonah in a sketch at the United Methodists' regional meeting in downtown Salem. It was an outdoor service, led by Robert Hoshibata, Bishop of the Oregon-Idaho conference. I felt convicted there by the passionate commitment all these folks had - commitment to the future of their church. They genuinely want to embrace change, they genuinely want to positively impact the communities they inhabit, and they seem... well... teachable. I didn't hear any "quick fix" or "magic pill" remedies to the fact that the United Methodist Church (along with most liturgical mainlines) is shrinking. Only passionate commitment to their "family" of origin. I think that's a good start.
I've got to figure out who my family is, how and where I fit, and then - much harder - I've got to learn how to be a family member to them... to you.