From Sacred Space:
Why have churches? We need to find God, and find him in community; and the church offers what we call the Real Presence. We are not praying in empty vaults, but before our Lord in the tabernacle. The CurÃ© of Ars used to see an old countryman sitting for hours in the parish church, and one day he asked him what he was doing. I look at the good God and the good God looks at me. In every parish there are mystics who do not know they are mystics, people whose prayer has reached a simplicity and intimacy beyond words. You feel the aura of their prayers when you come into their church. It witnessed their baptism, sheltered them in sorrow, confirmed the young and celebrated committed love. It expresses the dream, the vision, the reaching out towards God, of the local people and their visitors over the generations.
I’m going through a difficult time right now, not in my spiritual life as a whole, but very specifically in the area of participation in a local church.
I didn’t grow up in a “churchgoing family.”Â We (and by “we” I mean us kids and some of the time, Mom) went to church at Christmas, Easter, and summer Vacation Bible School.Â In fact, I first made a commitment to Christ and was baptised during vacation bible school.Â I could spend a few pages discussing why they were Christians and yet didn’t attend a local church, but suffice it to say that was my experience growing up.
When I started dating Chris, his family were devout Lutherans, his dad an elder and his mom on the altar guild.Â Being raised (sorta) Baptist, I had no idea what that meant, but I knew that if I wanted to date Chris, I had to go to church every week.
So I went to church every week.Â I participated in worship.Â I took communion.Â I recited the liturgy, although I never ceased to be amazed at the dead-dull tone of voice of the other worshippers.Â I recall an Easter service, when the congregation recited dutifully “He is risen.Â Halleluia.Â Christ is risen indeed,” with all the enthusiasm of Ben Stein as the teacher from Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.Â I think I knew right then I wasn’t meant to be a Lutheran.
We went to church pretty sporadically during the early part of our marriage.Â And then we got back to the States, and I know God placed us in a local church like I know my own home address.Â That was seven years ago, and we’ve both grown tremendously since then.Â Much of that growth is a direct result of becoming part of a local church, and the people we met there.
In recent months, really since the first of the year, I’ve been questioning seriously whether I belong there anymore.Â I no longer feel like a part of this local church.Â My attendance hasn’t dipped.Â I’ve been serving.Â But I feel cut off, rattling around loose in their midst like a five-year-old’s baby tooth that is only hanging by a thread.
I’ve got concrete issues, yes.Â And if I felt like I belonged there, like that was where God wants me, I’d continue trying to make an effort to resolve them.
I’ve also got some philosophical and theological issues with “the institutional church” right now.Â Â But nothing that won’t get worked out by continuing to seek God’s will.
I suppose that the point to this, if there is one, is that just when I needed it, I read the passage I’ve quoted above.Â Which tells me, in case I was wondering, that God knows where I am and is with me still.
And that, in the words of Gandalf, is a very encouraging thought.