Today is the first Sunday of Advent 2016. And the first time in 20+ years that I am not spending this morning in worship somewhere.
Several weeks ago – about a week after my last Sunday – a former church member asked me where I was going to church on Sunday. When I said I wasn’t… she pressed and wanted to know how I could go from going every week to not at all. I didn’t choose to discuss the matter with her but it has come up more than a few times since my last day in ministry.
I understand the question and the unasked questions behind it. I spent 24 years as a pastor and while I missed some Sunday’s here and there I was in the pulpit almost every one of those Sunday mornings. Have I lost my faith? How can I be a faithful Christian without attending worship and participating in church life? If the church was so important to me for so many years how could it stop being important so abruptly? And what does it mean to people whom I led and pastored if I have left the chruch?
The simplest answer I can give today (and that I am trying to understand) is that I don’t want to go. I went for all those years, sometimes out of duty and responsibility when I wasn’t feeling like it. Not HAVING to go is freeing. If you haven’t been a pastor, it ‘s hard to describe how Sunday morning (at least for me) cast a shadow over the rest of my week with its needs and expectations and responsibilities. These weeks have been a Sabbath from the Sabbath.
I have not given up on the church. I have certainly not given up on Christ. I still pray and read and ponder. I know the church is there and that I need to be there. But to find a place where people don’t know me and have lots of awkward questions and expect me to be involved is a challenge. To find a place where my Wesleyan-Methodist roots can take new root and thrive is also important. To want to go is important too – not to go because I must.
As Advent begins I am preparing not for the coming of Christ alone or for his return as Advent promises but also my own return.