Thank you to all of you who have reached out and or responded to my rant earlier this week about people leaving our churches. I love the fact that there is a mixed bag and I am really not in disagreement with either school of thought. As a minister I am learning to check in with people about their lives in addition to their spiritual journeys because for many, those are separate and distinct paths. In checking in, I ask about what they need to hear from me and I am noticing that of those who have reached out to me since my rant that they need a message to help them find their way in times of chaos, they need tools to help them respond in love and with love while making an impact on the world around them and sometimes that means having the courage to name the chaos and speak to how it touches our lives. One contact that I had was from a congregation that worked with years ago who reminded me of a message I shared during my time with them, whereby my approach challenged him to move beyond the simplicity of just having faith, to see all of the intersections in our lives where our existence becomes about the faith we live after we leave what was the safety and sanctity of Sunday Morning. He laughed as he talked about how the message connected my love of Scripture and Sacred texts to things that happen in our everyday lives. He shared his favorite experience of a board meeting where I and the ministerial team refused to be anyone’s gas pump, where you could pull up to us, fill up, top off and drive off into sunset. instead we urged them to find a way to make room for people to do their own work, have and share their own experiences, to connect with one another in the activity of the Divine that moves through us all. I remember that day fondly, because saying what I had been feeling became the Truth that I knew in that moment and that moment, I was set free from the expectations of the community and that allowed them to see more of who was I becoming in that moment.
I also reconnected with a childhood friend who shares my bapti-metho-costal upbringing and is now a minister in Chicago who reached out with the intent to tell me about myself, and as we talked about how we had to cut past all of the dogma and what we came to know as bondage within some of the Sunday sermons of our youth, that underneath it was a call to action beyond that which would benefit us and perhaps that is a root of the exodus from our churches today is the absence of such call in which to respond in our living. That call to action became the prelude for each of us accepting our individual calls to ministry. We shared how there are so many people who want to serve those in need and enact change in the community around them, yet we as spiritual leaders traffic in spaces where the “energy” (our cloaked spiritual way of saying hell no) is more important than the impact and reach of our presence to those who may never cross our property lines, or take a seat in our sanctuaries or join us for a Wednesday night class or special holiday service. This begs the question of who are we really called to serve? Where are they? So much for telling me about myself, as we found more in common in the “why” of our ministry that the sting of my previous post.
So often, as I stand and recite the mission and vision as a part of the order service in my work, I quiet the voice of my soul that says; “so what!” Because if we are simply saying it, with no charge or evidence of doing it, then it is just handwriting on the wall that will keep calling us until we answer in deed and in word.
Again, I am grateful for the many conversations sparked by my response, it appears that it has started people thinking and talking about the quality of their own lives and seeing the gap between themselves those of us who have been cast as “Other” by the social, economic, religious and political establishments of our day. Trust me when I tell you that I am not so out of touch that I think that any of us can please the masses and I am realizing with every passing moment that for some of us the pulpit and the platform is not inside of a building that we call church. The congregation and the spiritual community are not limited to people who gather in a space for the most holy and segregated hour of our lives, they are people who are hurting on any given Wednesday by the news that their freedoms, identities an other inalienable rights guaranteed to them are being stripped away. I used to work for an elder who said; “Beas, it doesn’t matter until it matters.” So, I hope and pray that none of us soon become the silent and still until we become they, them and those whose lives are touched by injustice. I want to believe that there is an advocate somewhere deep down inside of all of us and maybe we need to get out of their way.
Further, I think that it is time to consider actually following the example of Jesus, who pulled back the curtain of the Political, social, ethnic and religious constructs of his time, you know the one who came to show us the way to take a message beyond the narthex(my high church friends can tell you where that is), beyond the lectionary reading or text of the day, well past the soothing goodness that we find in our momentary coming together. I guess if our people are leaving, it may be time to follow them in all the ways that we have expected them to follow us.
It is actually quite ironic when we look at exodus of people who came seeking something more for their lives, leaving yet again because of what is not happening in those places that once seemed safe, where the messages used to inspire the soul and the people once exhibited radical hospitality. The example of Jesus shows us how to lead from the rear of a room, find life out of death and experience wholeness within the broken experiences of our lives.
The truth is, people are leaving our churches today and maybe people aren’t leaving us, but following the Christ within them to higher space and place of consciousness wherein they will find their Truth. Today, I am one of those who is leaving once again in search of a place where all of me is welcomed, put to work, honored and seen.
This post is an excerpt from “A Work in Progress” by Rev. Kathy Beasley