I remember my own story.
It only seemed logical to me that every church [of this certain denomination] must look exactly like mine. We don't really like to change things. We never let the service go longer than one hour. We don't use guitars (unless a very special "youth occasion"). And we chew up our pastors and spit them out.
So, I left for college and set out to find any church - of any denomination besides my own, please - that was exactly NOT the church I grew up in. (It's important to mention here that my faith journey was largely shaped by the faithfulness of certain people in this Church, but there's more to come on that later.)
|fellow youth group-ers, of growing up years|
|The youth of Heritage UMC, Hattiesburg|
I did find other churches. They had great college programs, cool music, small groups and fun outings. Oh, and really cute guys (one who I went on to marry). They were so good, in fact, that I couldn't decide at which one I should stay, so I visited them all! I hopped around, sticking one for about a year, but moving on after that.
Then during my senior year, I found one that seemed to call me home. We sang the hymns of my growing up; received the bread and grape juice on our knees or in processional; and kept close to the Church calendar, the seasons of Advent and Lent that help us remember our place a great Story. Our pastors were vibrant, quirky and loved deeply by us.
And the sign out front bore the same last name as the church from which I'd run so far.
|Bruce, pastor of the Church that called me home.|
|Toris (aka T-love)|
This new church home of mine had a tough history; they almost closed their doors for good. They were located in a part of this Mississippi college town where realtors didn't regularly take potential residents: "Haven't you heard of our newest development out west, where the schools are so good?" So, people moved away, money ran out and what follows many in our denomination almost followed us.
Then one sweet, yet resilient lady got in her van and picked up kids to come to Wednesday night dinner. And we built a Habitat home for one of our own. And we gathered in the little chapel after dinner to read the Scriptures together.
Later in years, thing got tough again for the Church I loved. But those other ones I was so non-committal with in college had their own tough times - disagreements that split the Church, new visions for ministry (and desire for bigger buildings) that caused sharp conflict, and leaving behind the city for the suburbs, breaking hearts with their move.
And so it goes.
Isn't this why we need a faithful God? Isn't this why we come together anyway, to try to live together and sing songs that [at least most of us] like? And if we don't like them, we sing them anyway, because we need to sing together, to believe together, to look outward at this mess of a world and see God's work in it - together?
Running from the Church won't save us from unfaithful people. And I confess - I have not been faithful. But we keep seeking to be faithful; we help each other be faithful; and we stay.
We stay because otherwise we are among the masses who leave because working it out is too difficult and frustrating; singing unfamiliar songs is too uncomfortable; sitting next to someone at dinner who can't pay his way isn't what we signed up for.
The church of my growing up years taught me a lot about faithfulness. I saw many people - my own parents, included - stay, no matter the circumstances. When the same group of people complained about the new pastor, only to see him out and send us into another transition... they stayed. When the proposed changes to music in worship were shot down again... they stayed.
And without even realizing it, I learned how to live with imperfect, unfaithful people - and they learned to live with me.
"Loving a person just the way they are, that's no small thing;
that's the whole thing... it takes some time."