I’ve found that more people are leaving my old church. These are people who have gone there much longer than I have, and have worked in lay ministry much longer than I have. These are people who are essential to the running of the church. These are people who are also waking up to the fact that church should be more than margarita karaoke and a night out watching the local baseball team.
Those things are fun, sure. But they aren’t the purpose of a church. Church is meant to build up the Body of Christ. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make the world a better place. Together, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Together we can do what Jesus did.
I haven’t told them to leave. They haven’t read my blog. They don’t know why I’ve left. But they too are leaving.
I’m not the first to leave. There were others before me. Others with children, who were dismayed by how the priest handled a change in how Communion was distributed to children. They were the first of the group of active members to leave. They were acolytes and chalice bearers and readers. The problem is, the membership wasn’t that big to start with, and of that number, there were even fewer who were willing and able to serve in liturgical roles. That is the thing with liturgical churches – you have to have worker bees. It can’t all be done by the queen.
It shouldn’t be done all by one person. That is the purpose of church. Church should be training ground for the rest of the week. In church we should learn about how to work together to build something amazing. In church we should learn about our own unique gifts and talents, and learn how to use them to serve God. We do it through the simple actions of preparing the worship space and time. We do it by polishing the silverware like we are preparing for a special guest (we are). We do it by assigning readers for that week’s lessons. We do it by practicing those readings, so that people can hear the Word of God clearly.
These are literal yet symbolic actions. They pale in comparison to what we are supposed to do outside of church, but they are still important. But when the people who do these things are leaving, it is a sign that something very deeply wrong is going on. It is a sign that needs aren’t being met.
I wrote the Bishop to let him know my concerns. I let him know about my concerns with that parish specifically, and of the Episcopal Church, and of Church in general. I wrote to tell him that I feel that we are doing it wrong, that Jesus didn’t mean for us to have church buildings and ordained ministers. Our tithe was meant to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – not pay for minister salaries and a mortgage. He told me thanks for writing, but he doesn’t see any problem. Of course he doesn’t. His job would disappear.
The more I read of what Jesus said, the more I see that His words don’t synch up with what we do. A person cannot serve two masters, after all. I can either serve Jesus, or I can serve the church, which often seems to be going in an entirely different direction.
I don’t want it to. I don’t want people to leave. I want this thing to work. I’m deeply concerned and sad about the state of things. I want church to be about healing and reconciliation and love. I don’t want it to be about chili cookoffs and ice cream socials. I don’t want it to become another social club.
Church isn’t the building, but we’ve spent so much money and time and energy on it that it has become the building. Church isn’t about ordained ministers either. Jesus told us not to have any. Yet we’ve given them money and time and energy too and we’ve gotten distracted. We’ve forgotten that WE are the Body of Christ. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ones who build up. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ministers, every one of us.
Some churches get it. Some churches understand the healing power of having many hands make light work in doing the work of Jesus. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people who need help. There are some churches that get that we can’t waste our time just hanging out together – we need to hang out while we are doing this work.
Meanwhile people are leaving. It is an Exodus, a leaving. They are escaping a bad situation, and looking for what they are being called to. They are leaving to try to find another place that gets it. They are frustrated. They haven’t left entirely. They are there half the time. The other half the time they are church shopping. They go to other area churches of the same denomination. They go in a group. Twice a month they are gone.
They haven’t come to the conclusion that I have. I don’t expect them to. My leaving was radical. While I’m sad that something that I’d come to see as the center of my life is gone, I’m also glad. I’m glad that the leaving wasn’t drawn out. It was a clean break. The words of the priest were so severe when she read my concerns about church that I had to leave. There is a bit of mourning, sure. I miss going to church. But what I really miss is that church never was what Jesus wanted it to be. I think I miss the never-was more.