When I switched over to this blog from my old one, it was with the idea that I didn't want to focus on the negative things in life. I wanted to be able to find those happy things, those sweet gems of joy, that many of us pass over or take for granted. After all, most people who can read this have numerous blessings in their lives. I think we all just have a hard time seeing those blessings at times. It's not just that we can't see through the storm to the sunshine ahead, but we can't see the ways we're protected through the storm, with our shiny rain slicker and stylish galoshes. All we see is the rain.
There are times when it's hard to laugh. Really, really hard. This has been a rough week in my world. Last Sunday, the pastor at my church announced that our season of being an organized church had passed, and this Sunday will be our final service together. As some of you can imagine, this was met by a collective gasp throughout the congregation, and plenty of tears. After the service, we practiced the art of the "long hug," clinging to each other and whispering words of comfort. To an outsider, this may have seemed odd. To those who have few connections at their church, it may seem like not a very big deal. Find a new church. They're pretty much all the same, right? Yay, Jesus!
Let me tell you a little about my church.
I wasn't always so connected with my church. I started attending about four years ago. At that time we were meeting at the Historical Building in downtown Des Moines. I liked the music, I liked the teaching, but I could not seem to really make connections. Thank God (literally) for my pastor and his wife. They made me feel welcome, would seek me out to check in, would call if I had been absent for a few weeks. Though few others made the effort, the love and kindness that I was shown by those two was enough to keep me coming (semi)regularly for three and a half years. Now, in that time I also attempted to join groups that were available, attended retreats, even inquired about singing on the praise band, but they were always dead ends. For some reason, at that time, I was not encountering people craving connection as I was. During my first three years, I was probably a bit depressed in general, so that didn't help my view of the world or my efforts at becoming an integrated part of the church.
A year ago, I was approached by a woman who I had heard sing in our church several times. She had a beautifully soulful voice, and I always looked forward to hearing her. She had been sitting behind me in church, walked up to me after church, and quite bluntly asked, "Do you sing?" Later, she told me that she was so embarrassed to ask a question like that, but had felt like she needed to. Somehow, sitting behind me, she had heard me singing during worship. I confirmed that, yes, I do sing, usually in the shower, but sometimes in public. She asked if I would sing with her sometime, I said yes, and that was the end of it.
Fast forward a couple months, and the pastor's wife is talking about doing a retreat for the teen girls in the church. She asked if I would be interested in helping, and suggested that I talk to the singing lady about helping with leading some songs. So I did. And we did. And it was amazing. And that's where it began. Soon after, I was contacted by the worship leader and began singing a couple times a month with the praise band. My confidence grew. I continued working with the teen girls, and met several more people. I started approaching people at church, instead of waiting for them to approach me. It helped that people started to recognize me, something that really hadn't happened in the three previous years (it's a little sad when you have been attending somewhere for a long time and people ask if it's your first Sunday).
Suddenly I was talking with the pastor's wife about reviving the women's ministry and co-leading the group. I was building connections left and right, and I realized that this church, these people, were my family. They were more supportive than some of my family, for sure (except my parents, who are A+MAZING). This was a group I could count on to check in on me, to really care about what was going on in my life, and how I was doing with it. People who raised me up and affirmed me and helped me to really see what a glorious creation of God that I am. (Did I mention the boost in confidence?)
Then came the switch. Last November, it all seemed to be crumbling. We were talking about closing. Attendance was down, participation was downer (yes, I'm using that right), and we couldn't sustain at the rate we were going. After meetings and talking and lots and lots of praying, the decision was made to stay open and work on growing our church. After all, as the best church in Des Moines, we should have been bursting at the seams. We hired a consultant, who gave us specific areas to work on. We moved locations, since rent was a major barrier in the financial health of the church. All seemed to be going well, which brings us to last Sunday.
I don't pretend to know what happened, to really understand all the nuances behind such a tremendously huge decision. I have talked to a few people, and in some ways I get why. The goal of the church was never to continue to exist as an organization at any cost. Growing up in a pastor's family, I understand the stress and tension placed on that position, and that trying to hold on to something that keeps trying to slip away, while also juggling everyone else's problems and ideas, is incredibly exhausting.
So we're closing. And I'm devastated. Heart-broken. Confused. Angry. Hopeful.
Despite this current darkness, the future is bright. God's got us covered. The lessons we learned, the philosophy of grace and love no matter what, can now be spread out wherever we go. Ripples in a pond. We won't all end up in the same place. And that's a good thing. Really, it is. There are so many churches in the area with plenty of money and not even close to the passion of my church. We now have the opportunity to infuse some of that passion into those churches. We have the opportunity to share the gifts we honed. And family doesn't go away. Though we're not connected by blood, my church family will find ways to stay connected. Because it's important. We will continue to support each other, to learn from each other, to affirm each other. We will always be a church, but in a different way. The name of my church is re-church...I like to think of this next stage as another way of radically REthinking church.
I don't pretend to understand what everyone is going through. We each have our own ways of reacting to tragedy. Though it may seem small to some, this is my current tragedy. But it is also an opportunity to choose happiness. To choose hope. To see beyond the storm and the rain in my eyes, and realize that the sun is coming, and, if I'm lucky, a beautiful rainbow right along with it. Above all, as ever, this is my opportunity to...