Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thinking about Church

I've been thinking, reflecting, and above all, praying about church lately.  For a variety of reasons which I don't feel I can go into in this somewhat public space, I've been taking what I'm calling a sabbatical from church.  I resigned my position as church moderator in April after much prayer, and with the exception of a funeral, I haven't gone to a service at my church since March.  I am seriously wrestling with the idea that perhaps I need to find a new congregation to which to belong.  But before I make that decision, I need to figure out what it is I'm looking for.  So I've been attempting to define what it means for me to "go to church," and what I think I need to find in a church.

Here's what I know I need in order to be faithful in attendance, service, (and financial support) to a specific congregation.

  • A congregation infused with the Spirit led by a pastor similarly infused
  • A progressive theology that includes all 
  • Inclusive worship experiences - newcomers, life-long members, children, teens, young adults, middle aged adults, seniors, LGTB, seekers both churched and unchurched . . . .I want anyone who enters the building to feel as though there is a place for her/him - not just "at the table" everywhere else too.
  • A pastor who preaches what we really need to hear -- the pastor's words must make me squirm in my pew and force me to wrestle with the scripture throughout the week (maybe not every Sunday, but most of the time). I don't want constant "feel good" sermons. I don't think that I should feel comfortable and satisfied when I leave church.  I should feel "fed" and nourished, I should feel excitement and empowerment, but not complacency.  I'm also someone who honestly believes that church AND politics have to be integrated.  How can a Christian not have a stand on hunger, poverty, abuse of power, war, etc?  How is that not political?  Obviously I am not suggesting that a pastor tell me for whom to vote, but a pastor should be forcing me to think about which candidates/laws/policies further God's kin-dom.
  • Music that enhances the worship experience --- while I can't say that I would be super excited by a rock band led service and projection screens,  I am open to many music genres and instruments.  I want the music to be intentional, helping to open me up to hearing and experiencing God.
  • Leadership (both pastoral and lay) which is open to challenge and change, and that can support those in a congregation who aren't "on board" with everything
  • Opportunities to serve - but without the sense of obligation, guilt if you can't or don't want to.
  • Opportunities to grow in faith through Bible study, book study, service work, classes, prayer groups, etc. 
  • A congregation attuned to the needs of the local community.
  • Leadership (both pastoral and lay) that plans with intention, that looks beyond the moment

My present church possesses several of these qualities, but it's missing some too.  So now the question for me is to determine which qualities are "non-negotiable." What would it take to change the missing ingredients, and are those things that can be changed?   

Meanwhile, it's a strange experience to be intentionally not going to church.  For 59 years I've been within the walls of a church on Sunday mornings.  (My mom used to carry me in an infant carrier to Sunday school where she, her sister and mother taught, starting at 6 weeks old!) Even in college, in the 70's, I regularly attended church.  I also have to admit that I've been in the same denomination all my life too --- Congregational, and then UCC when it was born.   I am not ready to explore other churches, yet.  Perhaps I will be led back to my present congregation where I've been a member for over 30 years.  Perhaps God is leading me somewhere else.  But for now . ..  

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