Staying in Church

 

In 2007, I skipped church for about 5 weeks. That is probably the longest stretch of time that I’ve gone in my entire life (most likely including infancy) without being in a church building. In the months that followed, our family visited a lot of different churches, trying to find one for us, but we never missed more than a week between services, and most Sundays, we woke up and joined some congregation for worship.

A lot of my online and flesh and blood friends simply don’t do church any more. Many are still believers, but a number of them don’t attend church. Some have left it all behind.

I get that. I’ve been through the wringer at church. When we took those five weeks off, I didn’t know if I could go back. The institution seemed too exclusive and too abusive to return.

And yet I did return. In spite of the pain, in spite of the hurt, in spite of the disagreements, I went back.

I probably make people all over the place a little bit crazy.

Some friends wonder why, if I’m going to church, I can’t just get with the program and accept what my church teaches? Stop questioning, stop doubting. Just embrace it.

And some friends wonder why I would continue to support an institution that has caused harm to many, including some of them. Why, if I have so many questions, I would continue to believe? Just leave it.

In her beautiful post yesterday, Rachel Held Evans said of the Church, “It’s not about finding the perfect community; it’s about helping to build the right community.”

This is why I stay. Because I want to build community.

I need to remember that the personas that I see online and in the media and that real flesh and blood person aren’t the same. They’re not just Conservative Person or Reformed Person or Inspirational-Meme-Loving Person or I-Don’t-Care-What-You-Ate-Just-Stop-Posting-Pictures-of-Your-Lunch Person. They’re also the mom who is proud of her grown daughter’s work with the abused. And the man who stacked a giant pile of wood so someone could have heat this winter. And a woman who has just a wee bit of subversive aqua color in her hair.

Sometimes I show up on Sunday and I’m annoyed. I’ll roll my eyes at a cliché. I’ll cringe at a sexist comment. I’ll cross my arms when I disagree about a point of theology. And I’ll think, “This is stupid, I don’t want to do this any more.”

But…

These are the one who held me when I lost it one Sunday and just sat in the front row and sobbed. These are the ones who give up their Saturdays to give food and companionship to some of the poorest and loneliest in our community. These are the ones, who even when they don’t say it perfectly, preach that love is what changes the world.

I sometimes get worked up about how I can help build the community, and that does matter. I think me just being myself has had a positive impact on how some people view people like me, at least in some instances.

But more importantly, I go because the Church builds community in me. It’s often easier for me to surround myself with my atheist friends or my gay friends or liberal friends. It’s often the really “churchy” friends that I want to pull away from, but they are part of my community as well. When I separate from them, I thwart the very unity that I want to see in the Church.

The only way that I know how to build that community is to show up. So if you’re looking for me on Sunday, I’ll be in Church.

  • rich_chaffins

    And I am SO. STINKING. GLAD. you stayed. And then followed. And now make my favorite music we’ve ever made together with me every Sunday.
    It’s not perfect, because people aren’t perfect. But when hearts are about the right things, and are understanding what it actually is that we’re called to do and be, it’s beautiful, while it is still from time to time a mess.
    Messy is beautiful, too. Because it’s honest, and because it’s the most trusting we can be.

    • Happy

      Amen!

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      “Messy is beautiful, too. Because it’s honest, and because it’s the most trusting we can be.”

      You said a mouthful there. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be messy with you and with our church. It’s kind of awesome.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    I’m working on showing up. This was good to read, Alise. Thank you.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Yeah, I don’t want this to be a guilt thing. I really do understand why people stay away, either for seasons or for good. I just know that when I’m away, it’s never a good thing for ME. So no condemnation whatsoever. Hugs to you, dear one!

  • http://twitter.com/trudymorgancole Trudy Morgan-Cole

    So glad you posted this … it expresses a lot of what I feel about the “why I stay” question too.

  • http://www.kimvanbrunt.com/honestly-adoption-the-blog/ Kim Van Brunt

    Good thoughts here. A few years ago, we believe God called us out of church-as-we-knew-it, and recently we’ve started to see what kind of community God had in mind for us. Many times, the reasons people imagine for leaving church don’t really apply to those of us who have left. (Because believe me, I argued with myself using alllll those arguments before God finally won me over and we left.)

    I know you’re not arguing for your way over everyone else’s, and ultimately we all need to wrestle and figure out where God wants us to be, which I think is what you’re doing in this post. But I just want to be sure you know some people don’t leave just because they get annoyed with cliches and sexist comments and other church members they don’t agree with. Sometimes it’s much, much bigger than that — and I’d venture to say, for those who really wrestle with it, *most* of the time it’s bigger than that.

    (Funny that you and Rachel both posted about this — I wrote about leaving church on my blog for the first time (after writing about it on Rachel’s blog months ago), and then I saw your post and Rachel’s. Interesting how these themes emerge sometimes.)

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      No, I definitely recognize that it can be a struggle that goes beyond surface stuff. And that God can and does call people away from the institution. Definitely don’t want to invalidate anyone’s story.

  • http://www.findingfruit.blogspot.com/ Jen

    Love this. Community is messy. But it is where I actually grow the most. When I am forced to break bread with the ones that I would otherwise avoid, the righteous, the always right, the always broken… Love is there because Jesus is there.
    Thank you for putting words to the value of going, to being there each Sunday even when you don’t feel like going.

  • Christie @ Random Reflectionz

    You are so right about the role we can play in community. It helps though if you are part of a community where you don’t feel like you are constantly swimming upstream or fighting a losing battle. When among the right people, though, community building is a crucial and transformative spiritual practice.

  • http://twitter.com/AmberWack Amber Wackford

    Wow, you really nailed it in the last paragraph — that pulling away thwarts the unity you want to see. Perfectly said, my friend. And also perfectly what I needed to read in a season of my life when staying at church is, quite frankly, way harder than it needs to be. I’m a jumbled mess of thoughts about it in my own head, so thanks for writing and giving me another way to look at things — as you usually do. I think maybe that’s why I love your blog so much. :)

  • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

    A couple of months ago I was really struggling, and the one thing that kept coming to mind over and over was, ‘it’s not about me’. My church isn’t about me, my community group isn’t about me, and my Bible study group isn’t about me. Some weeks are really hard, and my husband kind of has to pull me along to Community Group. But I realized, that for me, if I would have left, it would have been because I didn’t feel like those people were worth being around, and that isn’t true. So I stay because they are worth being in community with, even if the picture as a whole kind of drives me up a wall some weeks.

  • Nathan Stockstill

    When spiritual-not-religious people say, “Church for me is when I take a walk in the woods,” I’m always tempted to respond, “How sad,” because it’s obvious they’ve never witnessed church as community and they’ve missed out.

    Now a real writer has expressed my feelings, I can point to this and maybe some will understand.

  • AbbyKNorman

    There is so much freedom here for me! Thank you for writing this. Every single sentence resonated, and yet I have probably skipped even less weeks in a row than you have. Even when I don’t want to be there…there I am. Because even when I have HAD IT with them, these people are the body of Christ. They love me, sometimes poorly, most of the time well, and even when we COMPLETELY disagree. We do life together. Recently reading all these folks I have so much respect for and agree with so heartily all who have taken a major break from church I’ve wondered, should I go to, with everything I am wrestling, is this my next step? But you assure me, the way I am called to works too.

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org/ Jeremy Myers

    I am going on five years now… Hard to believe a former pastor hasn’t gone to church in five years.

    But to be honest, I have never experienced as much freedom and joy in Jesus as I have during these past 5 years.

    Of course, we are now thinking about returning, but for… reasons that will go unmentioned. I dread going back.

    • http://www.mhmcintyre.us/ Mark McIntyre

      I get the dread, but there are churches where the gospel is lived out. Admittedly there are few of them and they are sometimes hard to find, but they exist. It is worth the effort to find one.

  • Ryan

    I stopped going because I realized it was just another social institution.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    It can be easy to see community as a place where things are good, instead of what it’s meant for…helps us mature through our weaknesses and immaturity…all the bumps and pain to a better place. When we ditch or move on without experiencing the pain and working through it, I think we can undercut our progress and growth.

    In North America we are consumers, like it or not. (We don’t even really notice it) In important ways we never really “get” church…the point of it….as we ought.

    In many other regions of the world you don’t get a big list of churches to attend. You need each other. You work it out. You rely on each other instead of go it alone. Instead of shopping for an upgrade.
    (I wrote about under-regcognized reasons to stay here: lisadelay.com/…/so-you-wanna-ditch-your-church-top-5-mistakes/)

    I think you did the right thing. Not the common thing. Not the easy thing. Maybe not the most desirable thing …but for the long haul, perhaps the most spiritually formative thing for you and yours. kudos are well-deserved, Alise.

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