The In-Between

We are currently church orphans. I guess that term is preferable to church shoppers, and it feels more emotionally appropriate because we left our church after discovering it was moving in a different direction from us. To be blunt, it felt like it had already left us, and we had just received the news.

This post isn't about our former church. We love our family there and the work they are doing in the name of our Savior in the city and world.

We just feel saddened.

Correction: Bob feels frustrated. I feel saddened. Deeply so. So I guess my deep sadness averaged with his frustration equals general sadness. Or irritability. I don't know. We're just grieving, okay?

When people ask if our choice to leave was a private matter, the honest answer is that it was not so much personal as it was based on personal convictions. And we recognize not everyone shares these personal convictions.

It's never easy to leave a church, and it's especially hard when there isn't a plan b. We weren't like those serial daters who identify their next prospect before they write the Dear John letter. So it would have been much easier to stay and see if things changed, making it clear we did not agree and giving disclaimers when we invited friends to church. After all, that was how we had been doing it before we learned the info that caused us to reconsider our attendance. However, our loving Daddy has our family in a path and community where that wasn't an option, given what we had learned. We knew that we were called to leave and trust that the next home would be waiting for us.

While I contemplated our current circumstance of living in-between, I began to see how our family may no longer fit in to many churches we once did. In the past, speaking from the pulpit about issues like LGBTQ rights, racism, and gender equality were a nice-to-have, but did not define where we would be planting our tushes each Sunday morning. Now, though, we are hungry for spaces that are intentional in diversity, that practice radical grace and inclusion and provide opportunities for all people.

A friend who had gone through a similar maturation in his faith once shared a faith development model with me. He pointed out that, as a person grows beyond conventional faith constructs, it can look to others like "backsliding" because it goes outside of established structures. He himself had been rebuked for his spiritual development, and he ended up leaving his faith community to find one that allowed him to keep growing.

I have been working on a project for the past year, interviewing people who have left their faith communities and listening to their stories. My friend is not alone in saying he feels closer to God than ever before but distant from the concept of church. This is where I feel like our human attempts can get in the way of divine relationship. We create rules and standards and practices to maintain order, but they can start to cloud out the Reason for gathering in the first place.

And so we have an endless flow of congregants moving from one church to the next in search of authentic community and potential for healing and/or growth.
And so we have house churches that defy the format which many are no longer responding to, welcoming the spiritually hungry with the hospitality of the home.
And so we have church orphans who are wondering if they even fit in anywhere.

As for my family, we have peace in the mourning. We have turned this into an adventure for the kiddos and are praying that we can create safe spaces for others who feel abandoned by human structures. Our prayer is that they - like we - never feel abandoned by the One who designed the Church, regardless of its flaws from mortals' interpretations.

I spent some time yesterday in nature feeling all the feels and being honest about where I am. I wrote about how I'm used to going through phases of doubt and trial, but then I know the reward that awaits me.  This one, though, is particularly puzzling. Part of that is because I recently came out of a year-long Dark Night of the Soul, which I am still piecing together...or deconstructing...or whatever it is you do with such a mind- and heart-altering season. The point is that I don't know what is waiting for me. I feel like I'm in a free-fall, and I know God is going to catch me - that isn't a question - but I have no idea where or how. Will it be underwater? Will it be on a spaceship? Seriously, that is how disoriented I am by all this.

Driving home from my respite, I tried to use voice command on my iPhone to pull up an encouraging song I'd recently heard. I tried multiple requests, but it kept pulling up some subpar instrumental rendition. I finally tried it one last time, using the name of the group. Instead of what I was requesting - "Through It All/It Is Well" - I heard the following song. I hope it will bless you, stun you, or reduce you to grateful tears as it did me.