These are my stories.
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)
Finding peace in imperfection
That first meeting and the ones that would follow it were everything we had hoped for since losing our Community Church. We met in the evening and shared a potluck dinner each time, breaking bread together in the truest sense, communion at its deepest. We would worship together, discuss the Word together, pray together. Our children played quietly right there with us, looked at books, snacked on cheese cubes and apple slices.
Most of all, there was a sincerity that drew us back each week, hungry for authentic community.
* * *
The boy was drawing a picture of a truck while we discussed the passage. Something was said about Noah, I don't recall, but the boy looked up.
"I know about Noah," he said. "Noah built a boat."
"Yes he did," one of the men smiled. The discussion continued.
My heart swelled with joy. This was what I had been searching for, a place where my children were truly included, free to join in the discussion with the rest of the church. You wouldn't know he was listening, so intent was he on his drawing, but he was. He always was.
* * *
Sometimes I think everything hopeful is too good to be true. Can nothing ever just be what it seems to be?
Things began to change.
First we moved from meeting in homes to meeting in a building. Well, it didn't matter where we met, so long as we kept doing it together.
Next came the children's program. But we'd put four years into gently teaching our children to sit quietly with their activities through church services, had always been able to smile politely and move on when someone would mention their excellent children's program, so we would just continue to do so. Likely some parents appreciated having the option. Still, it was discouraging. Are we so unimaginative? Must we always fall back on what we know?
Then came less Bible, more business. Buzzwords, books, talk of change and growth and just get me out of here, I'm so tired of it always coming down to this. It had all been so good, so very exactly what we hoped for. Now we drove home feeling discouraged, more cynical with each passing week. Maybe we should just forget it. The desert had been so peaceful.
* * *
Backed into a corner. That's how I felt that night.
"The women and children will go to the children's program while the men stay for this quiet exercise, and then then men will go with the children while the women have their turn."
I should have just left. But I didn't. I silently seethed as I allowed my children to attend their first children's class. It was the typical Sunday School experience, cutesy songs and an "age-appropriate" Bible story, then some games and time to run around.
Church was never the same after that. He wanted to go sing and run around - of course he did! - and what used to be a non-issue became a weekly meltdown.
I was torn. Go against my conscience and let him go? Stand my ground and have church become a battlefield, a place of unhappiness for him? There was no winning, whatever I chose.
* * *
Hours. That's how long I would lay in the dark, long after we'd said good-night, writing and rewriting long letters in my head.
Do you know what you've taken from us? We used to drive home after church and all of us would discuss together, and he'd ask, always, "what did they mean by this? what does that mean?" and now nothing, nothing. I ask him what they talked about in Bible class and he can't remember. "Nothin'," he says. "I don't remember." Do we really need silence as we talk? silence as we pray? What of our example? What of embracing a small bit of children's noise in exchange for all the good it does all of us in the long run? Their little observations, their funny interjections, they have such a unique way of looking at things. Let them in! Let them watch us wrestle with the meaning of the text! Let them watch us pray - really pray - for each other! Let them see us cry, let them hear prayers answered, let them celebrate with us! Trust us to teach them in their own language at home, but at church, let us be a family, whole and together and not broken up by age or stage or anything else. You've released so much of the typical Sunday service - can't we let go of this thing, too?
But I never wrote them. Never initiated those conversations. I was too new - what right did I have to criticize their decisions? I was too defeated - what difference would it make anyway? I was too scared - how could I ever explain why this was so important to us?
(And I am the reason nothing ever changes in this world.)
* * *
One night came the official announcement. They had a new vision, one that had arose from much prayer. They sought to form missional communities, first one and then more as the church grew and more opportunities for focused missions arose. They wanted those of us who were willing to commit to that vision to join them in this new expression of church. They would support us, equip us, answer our questions and listen to our thoughts.
We wrestled over the issue together, the husband and I, for weeks. We had our questions, doubts, and uncertainties. We struggled to wrap our minds around these changes; what we had originally joined so perfectly fit our vision of church and we were hesitant to let that go. What had felt organic now felt increasingly structured and constricting. We felt angry, even betrayed. This wasn't what we'd signed up for.
We stayed at the crossroads for a long time.
* * *
It always came down to the same thing. Whatever their vision, whatever our differences, we couldn't deny their authenticity. We'd grown to love this community and their dedication to living a balanced life - inward, outward, upward - even when we disagreed on the finer points. These were people who loved with their whole selves, and that kind of sincere love isn't easy to walk away from.
Truly, love covers a multitude of wrongs.
* * *
We met with the leadership, asked our questions, talked over a shared meal. We were still hesitant, unsure of how this would all play out, afraid we'd be stepping straight back into everything we'd walked away from, the whole church thing instead of a living Christ-centered community.
We talked some more. Prayed some more.
In the end, we chose to commit.
* * *
It's been a year since that new vision was announced. We've stepped outside of our comfort zone and been blessed in doing so. As the dust of new change has settled, we've seen good things come out of it, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in this work and been surrounded by sincere love.
This is a community that pours themselves into each other, breaking bread over a shared meal each Sunday, gathering together throughout the week, encouraging and challenging each other, serving others in the neighbourhood, seeking God throughout it all. This is a church that genuinely seeks to be a family.
We had sat at the crossroads for so long - step out in faith to walk with them towards this new vision, or jump ship before we get hurt again? - and even now we acknowledge that where we are doesn't line up in every way with our ideal picture of church.
(But then, wouldn't we go back to our Heart Church in a second if we were to live there again? Typical church in every way, vocational ministry, Sunday School, programs, preaching...and oh, that beautiful liturgy. Truly, I am a walking paradox.)
But we are finding peace in that incongruity as we witness the ways in which authentic community and sincere love cover over these small differences. So long as God's Word remains the foundation and Love remains the way of life, maybe we can learn to let go of some of the things we clutch so tightly. Open our hands and receive love in exchange.
This feels like the beginning of healing to me.
* * *
Thank you for joining me in the space, for listening to my stories. There are so many more - God in my childhood home, years of summer camps, the incredible blessings and deepest hurts of the greater online Christian community - but it is a relief to have written down even this much. Slowly I am learning to love the Bride amidst this broken institution, discovering a kingdom of love that is already beginning though not yet complete.
This journey will continue, guaranteeing as it does both blessing and pain as broken people walk together towards the promise of wholeness.
- Richard Foster, "Life With God"
Are you searching for a welcoming community of Christ-followers in the Vancouver area? Wherever you are in your own journey, please do feel welcome to contact me if you would like more information on this place we have come to call our church home.