Thinking About Church…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Faith Journey | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Thinking About Church…

  1. Thank you Randy for articulating so well the feelings some of us have and are dealing with. Worship to me should be anticipated and joy filled, when it becomes a duty and an obligation, one needs to look at why. Often it is the expectation of others that we allow this burden to be placed on us. Sharing with our Lord and Savior should be a celebration, and we will get there. Grace my friend.

    • It is so hard to comprehend for those who haven’t journeyed through this desert. And we travel it for diverse reasons don’t we? But to go out of duty, out of expectation wears as much as anything. I look forward to wanting to go again!

      • Randy, being a bit “longer in the tooth” than you, allow me to make a couple of observations. When I went to Seminary, I didn’t go to Church the whole first year (except Chapel on campus). That was a wonderful sabbath and helped me align things in my head better. I suspect, in due time, it will do the same for you. I have discovered that I have become very hard to be preached to, as I can exegete on the fly and usually deconstruct the speaker’s message. I have also found that the presence of another “preacher” in the congregation can put unexpected pressure on the appointed clergy, and unanticipated expectations on you. You will find your way, but it will be another “learning experience” for you. If you feel the need to “keep your hand in”, get yourself on a pulpit supply list. There is always more demand than supply there. The Lord will guide you to where He needs you – and where you need to be.
        I plan to retire in 3-5 years and will face some of the same dilemmas that you are now facing. I wish you well in your new exploits. Good luck, old friend.
        (BTW, did you take leave of absence or honorable location? Just curious)

      • Neither – I took Voluntary Transition (it involved surrendering my UM credentials) as it was the only way to make this work financially. It has turned out to have been a great decision and I don’t regret that part at all.

  2. Doug Cope

    Well stated. You dont need a building to worship christ. I often spend time outside looking at all he has done. The amazi g mixture of plant, insect, reptile, and mammal life. It is all possible because of him. I would be intrested to know if there are any worship services that take place in and revolve around awalk through the woods. The area around Yellow Springs and Clifton in and around John Bryan and Clifton Gorge state parks. A wonderful morning of seei g all that he has created in its most primitive setting. Not only would it be healthy for the body, healthy for the mind, and peaceful for the soul, it would be a new and unique way to worship.

  3. It does not surprise me that even when you leave the pastoral position, people’s unrealistic expectations still follow you. Of course you still have your faith! of course you still love Christ! But you need a break! A long break! Worship is work. It is different than just attending. why they would expect such out of you is vexing. You will return to worship when you feel like it.

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