Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I {mostly} don't hate my church

Okay, I love my church. I love my church. I love my church. I will keep repeating this until I can say it and really mean it. {sigh} I often find myself having to the do the same thing with my children. When I say "my church" I am NOT talking about the physical building. I am talking about the people that make up the congregation that has been an incredibly important part of my life for over a decade. It is just that lately things have been a bit challenging for me there.
My church has one huge problem that is hard to ignore and impossible to fix and causes me heartache regularly - I did mention it has people in it, right?
This, of course, is ironic, because it is the people of my church that are my greatest source of joy and what keep me coming back each time. But there are days when I seriously question just what the heck I am doing choosing to be involved with this bunch.

It is even worse since I also WORK at my church now. My instincts told me this would be the case. For years I joked that I never wanted to be employed at any church I attended because then I would end up hating it. I am not pulling any punches here, Folks. People can be AWFUL to each other. When you work at a church you get the privilege of working way too many hours for way too little money AND the added bonus of seeing just how truly nasty we can be too each other. I had caught glimpses of this over the years which is why I always said I never wanted to end up working for my church. Gotta say - God has a wicked sense of humor.

When I listen to friends talk about how they used to attend church, but don't anymore or how they keep looking for one but can't find one that fits them I totally relate. I do. There are some days when I have leave the building and seriously wonder what is the point? Why do I keep coming back? Am I just a glutton for punishment?

I have been a member of my current congregation for 12 years now. The last year I have also worked as the Youth Director. It has not always been an easy or pleasant ride. In that time we have seen pastors and other staff come and go. That is a common enough occurrence as we are United Methodists, but some staff changes have been rather unpleasant. And every single time a changeover happens it is accompanied by members leaving in protest. Sometimes other members have returned once a pastor they did not like finally was gone. Makes you wonder just what makes a church a church some days.
We have also had knock-down, drag-out (fortunately mostly verbal) conflict over lost dishes and silverware, a huge building campaign to connect our two main buildings, adding a projector screen in the sanctuary, adding a contemporary worship service on Sunday mornings, how and what time during the year youth should be moved up from elementary programs to junior high programs, should teens be allowed to volunteer in other Sunday School classes when they have of their own to attend, how often communion should be served, whether people should be allowed to participate in different activities if they are official members or not, how the storage of items for different groups in the church should be handled, how political is it appropriate for the church to be in supporting or opposing issues, how low-cut is it acceptable for a women's shirt to be if she is serving communion, whether it is appropriate for a female pastor to wear a sleeveless shirt, whether our male pastors should preach in jeans (unless, of course, it is during Frontier Days). And on and on and on........
I realize as a member of the staff that I have a responsibility to the people in my church and I take that very seriously. I also know that I cannot nor will I EVER please everyone. That is tough, though, because I am a recovering people-pleaser.


Did I mention God's wicked sense of humor? (I can just hear some folks I know cringing because I used the word 'wicked' in reference to God. Trust me, God can handle it.)

I listed a few of the serious and equally ridiculous conflicts my church has seen over my time there. I have an even longer list of acts of love and joy that have happened there. Over the years they have continually worked to serve God as best they knew how. They serve the poor, visit the sick, feed the hungry, pray for each other and the world. They have donated money and time and talent over and over again doing what they believe to be God's work. I can't even begin to list all the ways they strive to reach out and be God's Hands in the world. Do they always get it right? No. But they always keep trying.

On a personal level my church was there when my first husband deployed for over a year to Afghanistan. I had a pastor chase me down after the service one time when I was obviously having a hard day just to ask if there was anything he could do. He literally had to run because that was one of the days I just knew I couldn't face people and tried to skip out of the service early. I have been welcomed and hugged countless times. I love hugs so, so much.  My kids have been loved there. My church opened their arms even wider when my first marriage ended. They cried with me and prayed with me and for me and my girls. They hugged me and my kids even more which is always the best way to win me over. They have laughed with me at the joys of being a mom and held my hand at the heartbreak parenting brings as well. They have joined me in Sunday school and bible studies and helped me wrestle with my faith and walked alongside me in my journey to know God and try to figure out just what He wants from me. It was so comforting and encouraging to know that many of them have the same hopes, fears and questions. They have rejoiced with me as I somehow found the courage to accept love from another man and have begun the journey into a new relationship with all the challenges of ex-spouses and step-children and discovering just what becoming a "blended" family means.

I can't begin to sum up the love and support I have been shown over the last twelve years. These people truly are my family. Like any family we have fights and disagreements, but I am so very blessed that, at least for me, they have proven time and time again that love wins. 

My role at church is very much like my role as a mom. I am constantly convinced that I am screwing it up. Some people don't like to hear me say that. They want confidence, they want hard answers and a solid game plan - but they got me instead. I love this prayer: "Lord, this is what I desire. Please do it or something better! Amen." I pray it constantly when I am striving to figure out how to do what I need to do. In the meantime I will not stop being honest about my insecurity, because that is the only way I know how to overcome it. And I will not stop trying to do the best I can to serve God  because I love Him and I love His people. It can be easy to forget that when times are tough and criticisms abound. I actually love my church all the more because they are all so very, very messed up - just like me. This is probably why most of the time I feel completely at home there.



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