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.”
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.