Risking Community

I still grieve over the pain so many feel after years of church turmoil. Uprooted, displaced, hopes raised and then dashed, confused, unsure, frustrated, angry, lost, lonely, questioning, doubting, sad, disillusioned, powerless, let down…and grieving. 

I’ve wrestled with whether or not to write this. I was in leadership and part of what has created this landscape. But that’s also a big part of why I care. There are so many I love who haven’t found community because they still see a lack of safety for the marginalized. There are ones I love at NEFC. There are ones I love at NFC. There are ones I love who don’t have any sense of a community and may think no one even misses them or notices them. I hold so many of your faces up to Jesus on a regular basis because so many of you are in my mind and heart. 

Part of being in community, part of creating a faith community, is to share our journeys. I’m trying to continue to share some of mine, and I hope others will share some of theirs.

Even while I was pastor of one of the most institutional of institutional churches for 15 years, I was very conflicted about institutions. I spent the first 4 years genuinely confused why I ended up there, when my mind, heart, and spirit were asking so many questions. And then, I spent almost a decade watching the benefits of it all for my kids, as so many others spoke into their lives and shaped their own faith. I came to an uneasy acceptance of institutions and their benefits alongside all their pitfalls and dangers. 

Community sounds so much better than an institution. But practically, they are so intertwined. Communities become institutions and institutions create communities, and there is intentionality and unintentionality going both directions. I don’t know how to separate them except in the theoretical sense. Individuals create systems, and systems shape individuals, and again some of it is intentional and some is unintentional, some is for the better, some is for the worse. Human history tells us we cannot be guaranteed to only do things for the better. God help us all, and I mean that as a very literal prayer.

I’ve experienced and wrestled and learned a lot over the last year. I am so grateful that Jesus has been so tangibly real to me that I have never once thought of chucking my faith. I’d be glad to talk about those experiences with anyone. 

For months last summer, I had no regular faith community. I visited communities, but it was always clear I was not a part. I ached to be with people. Even with all my anger and hurt over institutional junk and people who had hurt, it was worse to be alone. I had to do (and I am still doing) so much work to name my grief, my hurts, my guilt, my fear, my desire to hurt, my defensiveness, my disappointment that God wasn’t guiding me as clearly as others. I did (and am still doing) this work in therapy, journalling, praying, crying, reading, and over lunches or coffee with safe people. Bringing this stuff to God has led me to keep trying to be in community with others, and to let it be what it is, instead of what it used to be, or what I wish it would be.

When I look around, there is still so much hurt that needs to be processed. There are still real differences in philosophy about how to build community. Some see how much needs to radically change so that those who have been marginalized can truly be safe and have agency, and so want to go slowly to build it correctly. Some see the damage having no community can bring, and want to do what they can to build something as safely as possible. I hate that these differences are still causing damage to our relationships and our communities. I don’t have a solution.

For myself, I’m choosing to still risk trying community, imperfect and dangerous and full of potential hurt as it is. 

I’m trying to regularly practice spiritual disciplines to give the Spirit every possible chance to call me to repentance, to give me love for others that I don’t have in myself, to have God’s love move through me outward. 

I’m trying to take actions that are consistent with what Jesus did, recognizing that my actions and my use of my power and privilege not only affect others, they shape who I am becoming. 

Because I’ve watched others disappoint me, because I’ve seen my own mistakes, I continue to remind myself I might be wrong and that even my desire for justice can lead me to harmful actions. I believe the way forward is to cultivate submission to Jesus through active testing of my leadings (in other words, not sitting passively, and not acting impulsively). 

I’m trying to risk reaching out to others, even as I fear that others won’t give what I need. I’m good at self-centered fears.

And I keep naming and releasing my hurt, my guilt, my frustration, etc. etc., asking God to take our ashes and make them beautiful.

4 thoughts on “Risking Community

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  3. The most odious parts about faith to me, is that it seems that if we are to be faithful, that even when all there is to be done is break down, that we still have to go through it in a way that is true to who we were prior to the turmoil. May you find newness in the wake of all the breaking-down it seems you are called to in this time, even if it feels a little humiliating. For what it’s worth, I identify with the craziness that a faithful, humiliating break induces in a person. May yours be fruitful. I sense it will be.

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  4. I started down this road in earnest about 2 years before the author did. I too was part of what happened, though I tried hard to prevent it. Now two, three, four years later, depending on how you count, I can look back and see the stages of grief, guild, anger, and confusion that others seem to occupy now. But from where I sit the future looks bright. This now seems to me like God’s solution to the mess we created. We can go forward now, with hope that we won’t create another mess for God to clean up. Yes, it has been heart wrenching at times, but I am on the other side of that now, and it is worth the price.

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