I’ve taken a couple of days to get my thoughts together over this reflection. So far this has been the hardest, most costly one to respond to.
Six years ago I began dreaming about what church might be, and really believed that we might be on the edge of making it happen.
But it didn’t. It isn’t.
Maybe it’s just that life happened. Six years ago I moved from being a professional Christian into teaching. With all its pleasures and challenges, the major difference in how life works is that I often simply don’t have the headspace or energy to think of anything other than work, and then, when I get home, my focus is entirely on being present with my beautiful family (although I’m not always great at that). The thought of doing something above and beyond what I’m already involved in makes me wonder how generations before me managed to work, raise a family and be utterly committed to their church. I just can’t do it. Something would suffer, and most likely it would be the most important thing.
I want to have a home that is open to all and a place where a community might gather around the table to share life…but I also need a place to retreat to away from ‘others’at the end of a long day, having given everything to those I serve at school. I guess that I want a sanctuary, not a guesthouse.
I want to be deeply involved in my community, being part of shaping a better future for us all…but working half an hour away means that it often feels more like a place that I sleep and occasionally play in, not a place where I’ve sunk deep roots.
I want to live a rhythm of life with a group of people trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus in the twenty-first century, to grow together on this journey of faith and doubt…but I don’t seem to be able to find time to hang out with my best friends for a simple beer, let alone to ‘do’ life.
Every now and again we (Kay and I) talk about dipping our toe in again into the world of church, mostly because we don’t want to deny our girls part of the upbringing that made us who we are today. We want them to grow up around people of all ages who love and live together, and form the kind of relationships we were able to because of the place we worshipped. Every time we think this, though, the reasons we ‘fell out of love’ with church bubble back up to the surface.
We don’t want to be consumers, turning up on a Sunday to sing, listen, and then go home and not really notice any difference.
We don’t want to abdicate the sharing of what we believe in to a ‘children’s ministry programme’ where our little family is split up so that they can ‘have fun’ and we can focus.
We don’t want to feel like we’re not really committed unless we’re giving regularly, involved in a set-up crew, small group or something that requires us to spend even more time apart than we already do.
And so we don’t do it. We miss it, but we just can’t do it anymore.
Maybe we’re too proud, or maybe we’re unrealistic…but surely there is another way? I know I sound judgemental, and I know just how much good churches all over the world are doing…but it just doesn’t ‘work’ for us. It would be too easy, somehow, a compromise too far, I think. I know that we’re all flawed (me especially!), and nothing will ever be ‘perfect’ for us, that we may be seeking for something that can’t and won’t ever work…but what if the whole point of what we’re experiencing is that it is broken, and that something else is possible and worth holding out for?
I still believe in what I wrote all those years ago, still dream that one day we’ll be part of something like that as a family. But I think it’ll need some big decisions that involve every part of life, not just what we do on a Sunday. I’ve glimpsed moments which have persuaded me that it could happen…but inevitably it’s been something that only I could access, not all of us…and that’s pretty much my only non-negotiable. This journey of faith isn’t a solitary thing, but something I want to share with the people closest to me – my family.
I’m not ready to give up on this one.
If Jesus told us that ‘church’ was meant to be the kingdom of God here and now, why would we settle for anything less?