You know what I miss most about the church? Surprisingly, it's not the liturgy, with its beautiful flow of words and actions that carries you along, making its primal connections. Nor is it the good works and the possibility of making a difference in the world. No, what I miss most is belonging to a community of people I care about, and who care about me.
Maybe this is what keeps so many people attached to the church as its influence wanes and its structures collapse. When sermons speak a language no one understands anymore--"Just believe, and obey"--when the church's constant needs and demands hang heavy upon the shoulders--more money, more volunteers, more faith--all of that gets swept aside when we greet our friends, and they greet us, and we participate together in rituals older than anyone can remember, and we feel once again our place in the universe.
Jesus chose not to undertake his earthly ministry alone. Seemingly with great care and intention, he picked a handful of followers, cutting a wide swath through society--a tax collector, some fishermen, women of wealth, perhaps a prostitute. They were to be his community, his friends, until the day he left them. Then, they were to be friends to one another, as they continued their journey together in his name.
As I grew more and more distant from the church and all its grandness--its ancient words, its firm beliefs, its stoical faith--the same could not be said about my friends. I never felt distant from them, and I still don't, to this day, any of them, from my first church to my last. While I doubt the church got much right about Jesus, about who he was and what he accomplished, I don't doubt at all the fruits he actually left us--a community of ordinary people trying to love God and to love one another, imperfectly, but enough to change the world.
This is the hardest thing about leaving "church land," as I have done. No longer a functioning priest, no longer a card carrying Christian, in any formal sense, I miss my friends. I wonder how I can do this journey without them. We stay in touch, as you do with fellow travellers you've met on vacation. But we used to meet weekly. In that regular reconstitution of the Body of Christ, we were reminded that we were not alone on life's journey. We gathered in God's name, and God was with us.
So, the search is on. Where does a seeker find community? This is why I've been working on The Mystic Cave, a podcast and an online sanctuary for seekers. (But more about that later ...)
Next week: Pseudo-Community