...I really, really want you to take the time to read this powerful blog entry. (Make sure you read the comments as well - there are some powerful recognitions there.)
Now, here's why this is important...this quote from the post:
In the last few years I've been surprised at the number of mature, faith-filled Christ followers I've met who have stopped going to church altogether. All of them are simply unable to buy into the insanity of the church culture anymore.
Those lines hit home - because I'm afraid I'm becoming one of them.
Over the last several months, I have been struggling to attend a nearby Lutheran church. I mean, really, really struggling. I can find just about any excuse to not go to church - just about anything makes it OK to skip Sunday worship.
Now, I have to confess: if I should be having this feeling, it shouldn't be with this church. Because this isn't your everyday Lutheran church; this is not a congregation of "the frozen chosen." They have a mission; they have a mission statement; they have contemporary worship. They have been through a building program that transformed their "shotgun" sanctuary into a more welcoming "fan-style" worship center. The pews are gone, the movable seating is in. They have an outreach congregation specifically focused on people who don't want to go to church. It is, in short, everything that I was desperately searching for when I found Atonement; in fact, it is everything I wished Atonement was when I got to Atonement! On the surface, it's everything that I hoped a congregation that I pastored could have been.
And it leaves me cold.
And I don't know why.
You see, I need this "community" you talked about in your newsletter to the congregation. I need people to draw me in, to involve me, to welcome me. I need someplace where they know my name. Someplace where I am needed and wanted and able to make a difference. Some place where it would matter if I'm sick; where it would matter if I'm well. Someplace that would miss me if I died.
This place has that, seemingly. They have the energy; there are things happening there.
But somehow, I don't feel the invitation.
In the summer of 2000, when I (and the other members of the Faith Lutheran diaspora) landed on the shores at 99th and Metcalf, it might have been that things were broken and needy enough at Atonement Lutheran that we felt needed. There were things to do - places to fill, songs to sing, children's sermons to do, a class to teach, Alpha to start, etc...and there were places where a hand was needed. Maybe I don't perceive the need, here. Maybe what I'm feeling is that the expectation at this place is to sit down, do the worship drill, hand in the check, have some coffee, and leave. And maybe I want, or need, something more than that.
I actually wondered if I'd just forgotten how to be "just a member"? Had I, by virtue of being on worship teams and vision boards and leadership and church councils - not to mention two years at seminary - become so codependent that I only know how to be a part of an organization if it's in crisis? Had I somehow caught a bad case of Dudley Do-Right Syndrome - always starting off my membership with "I'll save you, Nell!" ?
I don't think that's it. Otherwise, I would have done that very same thing with my AA membership. I would have instantly leapt into saving all the newbies when the came in, and getting into the service organization (intergroup committees and the like). At AA meetings around the city, I feel welcome, I feel engaged and "a part of," so somehow it's different at church.
I also asked myself the other obvious question - am I feeling uncomfortable about going into a church now that I'm "out"? - but I really don't think it has anything to do with it. I don't get a homophobic vibe from this place. I don't feel the need to don a rainbow-flag patch and start demonstrating a' la "Queer Nation," shouting We're here, we're queer, get used to it! I believe I'm quite capable of confronting the church if the fact that I'm gay gets out - I understand my faith enough to do that. But I'm not going into this place as "a gay Christian." I'm just Steve, looking for a place to land. So I just don't find that it's an issue here.
I do know this: I'd really, really, really encourage you to pick up a copy of Take This Bread, by Sara Miles, and read it cover to cover. It takes a bit for her to get going - but every word is setting her up for an amazing conversion of an admitted church outsider.
You will find a story of an admittedly fringe liberal church who encounters someone who learned missional out in the world - who then heard the message of the communion table, and thought (somehow) that God really meant what he said. There are a whole bunch of folks who are hearing, in Sara Miles' expereince at St. Gregory's, the call of what they want to see the church look like. I know I am.