This weekend I accessed church in two different ways. They are both sitting with me. I need to weave the strands together and formulate a response. What else is a blog for, right?
On Friday I listened to the new Evolving Faith Podcast. I’m not a big podcast fan, but I had been looking forward to this one. I first discovered the Evolving Faith conference through following Nadia Bolz-Weber on Twitter; I found my way to Rachel Held Evans and had the door opened to a whole new world of Christianity I’d been yearning for. One where diversity is loved and all are equal. Where scripture is grappled with and traditions questioned. Where the Christ I’d always loved shone through others too. Within minutes I was in tears.
The warm voices of Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu filled my living room, welcoming me with care, and a deep sense of belonging began to wrap around me. This is a place where misfits and oddballs are embraced for who we are. Where neurodivergence, social awkwardness and unorthodoxy are understood and even celebrated. I could relax and be at home in this community, knowing my value. I listened to the first half an hour and then called my husband through, starting the podcast again so he could share it with me. It was bliss.
Two days later I watched my own Church’s online service, of which I was part of the worship. The offering has matured, feedback has been responded to, it felt more comfortable. Which was a relief, after a difficult experience a few weeks ago. However, something the Vicar said really struck me. He spoke about perseverance, how we must keep going, and that if something is encumbering us we should shrug it off and move on without the burden.
But what if the very thing you’re persevering with is the burden? What if that is church?
I have been at my current Church for almost five years. The first 18 months were wonderful. I had followed a call to move there, I had waited patiently to serve there, I was learning so much playing in a different type of worship band to my previous experience and I was thriving. Until my Vicar and I found ourselves on opposite sides of a theological debate. Because he was the Vicar, he had the authority, and I was forced to step away until the debate was resolved. Over three years on, the repercussions still echo through my daily life, despite resolution and restoration having seemingly taken place. I still don’t feel at home.
So here I am, with a physical church I don’t feel fully comfortable or accepted in, and an abstract church I could dwell in the pews of for hours.
I have persevered in my physical church and will continue to do so until God leads me elsewhere. But this weekend has taught me that I can see my physical church for what it is. A place to meet the wonderful Christian friends and fellows who will love me, support me, help me on my way. There are plenty of those there. There are also plenty of those in the church at the other side of my area where I have friends. Also on my Facebook where Christians from all over the country and all walks of my life are at the other side of my keyboard. Also on Twitter. Podcasting. Blogging. Writing books. Sharing their stories and encouraging others. Encouraging me.
I don’t have to invest any more emotional energy into an institution which causes harm, and I don’t have to be at the centre of a physical church to be a valid Christian. What a revolutionary revelation! It must come from Jesus then …
Thank you to all those who create space to encourage. Thank you for showing me the door can be viewed in two (or more!) ways. Thank you God for allowing me to join in.
Peace be with you.