Divorce. Miscarriage. Death.
What words are there to describe what a church split feels like? What do you say when this happens to your congregation? How do you write when your community is falling apart around you? I haven’t looked at my blog in three days. I felt like I should at least acknowledge what’s happening before blogging about anything else. But I couldn’t. I don’t have a real big problem being personal in my writing. But when there are relationships that need to be mended, this isn’t the place to do it.
I have some distance now (two days worth), and I have some hope. I’m going to try to do some processing here. I’m going to try to keep it personal. We’ll see how it works. Everything I write should be understood to be my perspective and my opinion. I believe it to be correct. I also know that I am frequently wrong in my opinion and limited in my perspective, so I am open to correction and other perspectives.
So what’s happening? Most of you who read this blog already know what has happened – you were there. Others of you know that my congregation has been trying to discern whether to welcome covenanted, same-gender couples into membership. Well, on Sunday, we had a congregational meeting that did not go well. That may be an understatement. I’ll let it go at that.
My wife and I left afterwards to take our middle daughter to her grandparents for the week. During three hours in the car, we didn’t say anything unless one of the girls said something to us. We just couldn’t talk. We were numb. We were in shock. We were overwhelmed and gasping for breath.
When we returned home, we got a call from someone in our small group just wanting the group to get together. What a blessing. We took her up on the invitation. We mostly just sat around a fire pit for the evening. I suppose we talked, but mostly we were present to each other.
I regard church membership in much the same way that I regard my marriage covenant. It’s not quite equivalent, but it’s similar. Jesus made clear that the marriage commitment is pretty important. Maybe unfaithfulness is grounds for divorce; maybe not. I wondered on Sunday if unfaithfulness is what I had seen. I don’t know; and I won’t judge the conclusions of others or the choices they make based on their conclusions. It’s just too difficult a situation to know the right decision.
Sometime during a more optimistic moment in the weeks before, I had asked my pastor to remind me what promises I made when I joined our congregation. I was hopeful then that I wouldn’t need the reminder, but it turns out that it’s good to think about these things ahead of time. And my wife and I decided that we needed to remain in the congregation, no matter what the outcome might be. In some ways, this added to our despair on Sunday, I think. What would our community be like, when the dust settled? We feel strongly that the Church must welcome LGBT brothers and sisters. How would we worship in a congregation that doesn’t?
I kept thinking about Chuck Neufeld’s words from the previous Sunday about bearing with one another:
If you bear with me for a moment, then can you bear with me for a time? And if you bear with me for a time, then can you bear with me for a long time? And if you bear with me that long, what if you are still bearing with me on something that is confusing to us when Jesus returns? Do you think Jesus would be displeased? Or if Jesus would find us earnestly searching the scriptures in a spirit of unity and of joy and of forbearance, would Jesus not say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?
Can my wife and I bear that long?
What hope do I have now?
One of my dearest friends is directly influenced by this mess. She heard our congregation’s call to “Come follow Jesus with us.” It doesn’t seem likely now, but not because of any lack of effort on her part. If anyone had an excuse or reason for retreating now, it is she. I spent the lunch hour with her yesterday. I hoped that I could be present, perhaps sitting in silence, and listening if needed. I heard her devastation and pain. I also heard her insist on a way forward. I heard her say that reconciliation is possible, that it needs to happen just because that is what is right. In all of this, I have seen the light and life of Christ most in her.
If I have hope, it is in the light of Christ.
Friends, if you’re going through this pain, as well, be present to one another. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Cry. Grieve. Pray. Rinse and repeat. Remember that if all you can do is groan, you’re speaking the language of the Holy Spirit.