September 1, 2014
I don’t belong to a church. I am unchurched. For me it is the largest hole in my heart. Every day it haunts me. Every day I ponder how to solve it. Every day I pray about it. But I haven’t solved it and my prayers, as yet, remain unanswered.
Church web sites and newsletters often leave me feeling like a misfit. They are often filled with news of this or that group getting together to do a project, or gathering for lunch. They frequently don’t teach things that matter. They don’t talk about Scripture or God or Discipleship. They list schedules, budgets and activities and many pay for their newsletter by accepting ads from local businesses. So I can’t read about God but I can find a good contractor. I don’t need ways to fill my time and I’m not lonesome. I have friends, projects and people to share meals with. I don’t need a hobby or suggestions for volunteering in my community. I don’t need to be told how to vote or what to think about gun control. I want a place to worship! I want a church to worship God and hear about Jesus.
Occasionally I read some theological journal and am reminded how many have fled the Lutheran church to join other churches. Sometimes I am able to be happy for them. Sometimes I can only regret the exodus of leadership. Sometimes it is hard not to feel like a spiritual orphan. I get tired hearing from those who have left telling me about “the only path to Jesus.”
It has been suggested that I can watch good worship services on TV. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that I want to TASTE AND SEE. I want to participate in the liturgy. I want to walk up the aisle to receive the Eucharist. I want to taste the bread and drink the wine. I want to sing the hymns. I want to join my voice with others in the liturgy. I want to have a seat in the pew.
I grew up in a home where the piano had a hymnal. I could practice the hymns. I could play them. I could memorize the words. Sometimes when I’ve been in scary situations, I have found comfort singing those memorized hymns. Now many churches have words up on a screen. So people don’t have to hold a book. The hymnals of yore reinforced the catechism. But that is an old-fashioned idea now. After all, we are modern people.
If I were to put it in a classified it might read like this:
Wanted: Church in driving distance in which to worship the Triune God. Preferably Lutheran, willing to consider other liturgical churches. Seeking: Faithful witness. Care with liturgy. Adherence to the historical ecumenical creeds. Thoughtful preaching on the appointed texts. Sacred music. Prayer for our neighbor. Congregation where non-members are welcomed.
I embarked, somewhat unsuccessfully, on correspondence with a friend from another faith community in the hope that perhaps I could find peace within that church. Just one of my attempts to solve my unchurched dilemma. She challenged me to ponder what it might mean that God has not yet answered my prayer. I am still pondering that question.
Part of what restrains my moving to another faith community is my abiding and deep love for my own church. My heart isn’t free to take the leap necessary to go to another church.
Part of what constrains me going to a Lutheran church is poverty. I live in the sticks. There are churches that I could attend that are too far away for me to attend given my present financial resources.
Part of what constrains me is the seemingly prevalent idea in the church that in order to be relevant today it has to have a praise band and be cool. A local pastor who had a church booth at a community event asked me what I was “looking for in a church.” I responded that I was seeking a liturgical church with faithful preaching. He looked at me as if I was a fossil. His response: “oh, you’re a liturgy nerd!”
As yet the hole in my heart remains. What does it mean that my prayers have not yet been answered? I don’t know. I try to remain open to suggestions. I try to listen. I pray. I wait on the Lord.