I added a new feature to the blog this past week, the “one year ago” blog posts which now appear in my sidebar… which simply does what it says, lists and links the post(s) one year ago from the current date. I’ve been looking back at them, too — maybe I’m the only one, but I’ve found an item or two I’d forgotten about, which was a good thing. Today I found my two “dirt posts” and their companion piece appearing in the sidebar. You’d have to have been following along a year ago to remember, but these posts provide a few snippets from my story, and a brief explanation of my choice to blog anonymously, as well as reveals some of the impetus for us to join the church exodus crowd. So I went back and read them.
This inevitably has me in a reflective mode, thinking about the past, about the past year, and about where we’re at today. We quit attending “church” with hopes of starting to “be” the church. Quick little inventory, have we done the right thing? Does it need any course-corrections, do we turn back, or do I just uninstall the plugin that reveals my “one year ago”, quit looking back and forge ahead even if I’m wrong? I think I know the answer, but let’s do the exercise: The life of a church-leaver, 18 months in.
Regarding church communities, we started by visiting a few other local ones as a kind of interim step rather than quitting “cold turkey.” We found out there are some good churches out there full of great people. The first and most obvious one for us to try out, we dropped in on less than a half-dozen times, and haven’t really been back. I found I already knew quite a number of people there and the kids’ program was quite good, but it simply didn’t suit our new journey.
We tried Soul Sanctuary after Soul Pastor found my blog, realized I was also in Winnipeg, and emailed me to set up a lunch appointment. As he became a friend, I figured we should drop in, and we still do from time to time. The kids like the “Soul Kids” program, the wife likes the worship, and I like the dim lighting. Lately my oldest daughter has gotten a couple of emails from her Sunday School teacher, who I believe is generally harmless, but they made me think that she doesn’t realize that my kids also have a mother and that she’s a wee bit concerned that we aren’t there every week.
We also found St. Benedict’s Table, an emerging Anglican community, and visited there a few times… and a few times more, and became at least semi-regular there. It’s kind of an add-on to the other things we’re doing, which I’ll come to next, but of the established, “traditionally”-shaped church communities we’ve tried, this one resonates the most with us. They’re perfectly happy not being our only or even primary faith community, they just seem genuinely glad to have us along. I love how the whole meeting moves from its starting point with “the conversation of worship” to the communion table, where even our kids participate as full members of the community. And they do it every week.
Regarding our simple church community, the thing we set out to make our “primary faith community” is our small group expression, which has grown from four couples in January-February 2005 to now be about ten couples regularly. The dynamic has obviously changed somewhat, but it’s a good group, authentic, and encouraging. We almost always seem to have great food, good wine, poignant conversation, and genuine relational connections. We have room, freedom, even encouragement to ask questions we were once discouraged from pursuing. We’re getting in touch with aspects of our faith and our lives that may well have gone untouched.
I’m not yet concerned but not quite content that all of the couples in our gathering have some connection (current or former) the the church community we left behind (our CLB). Everyone in this gathering sees problems in the church we left, significant or systemic; some have, like us, left that church, others for one reason or another have not left it. I would like to be more diverse, perhaps in time. This and other common points of connection do have an upside, which is that we have relationships within the group that have existed for 15-20 years and longer. This fuels some of the most meaningful moments as well. One couple during their first visit, were in with us like a dirty shirt, and after we’d all shared communion near the end of the meeting, he told us it was the first time he’d had communion in two years… which means very little to read it here, but held implications for our group that were quite moving for many of us.
Another downside with our gathering is that it isn’t now as missionally-focused as we’d first hoped, but I believe this can and will be changed as we move along. We’ve gone through a bit of a growth spurt and I think perhaps we need to intentionally re-ground ourselves. This will prove critical over time, as it will genuinely set the tone for what we become as a community. The growth has not added a very large group of similarly-aged kids, but there is a group of kids from three of the families that have started meeting together occasionally for a kid-focused event in the same manner as the adults have been meeting. It seems to be a hit.
Regarding our family, we’ve done “couch church” a few times, but only a very few. I try to deliberately add some amount of spiritual instruction into daily life as it comes up — a more Hebraic approach, I suppose — which is good but takes time. I think the long-term benefits for this method could be huge, but it clearly isn’t the only thing our kids get in terms of religious instruction. Just to keep them throughly
confused well-rounded, they’ll both be attending christian schools in addition to all of the foregoing mishmash. In response to the accusatory question, “What about the kids?” I suppose they’re probably far better off now for getting spiritual formation and religious instruction from multiple sources, beginning and ending at home.
I believe my family is genuinely better off personally for having made this major shift in our religious community. I think I’m personally more encouraged about matters of religion, and certainly less uptight about the whole affair… which leaves me room to actually function. Truth be told, I’m perhaps getting close to recovery from some kind of spiritual depression that’d gone on for a few years. At least my vision for the following of Jesus has a lot less drudgery in it and looks a lot more “everyday-normal” than it once did. What more can you ask? Well, there are a few things I’m going to ask, to be sure… but forward momentum is a good start.
Summing it up then, was it a good move? Yes. I’m not looking to turn back on any of it. I might have done a thing or two differently, but offhand, I don’t think I regret anything enough to say I wish I’d done something differently. Bottom line: I left the church more than a year ago, and I found more of God outside than I was finding inside. I also found I’m anything but alone in this assessment.