Monday, May 02, 2011

One Last Time...and Then - We're Home!

Signing on with Michelle over at Graceful this morning for her "Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday" meme:

I have loved churches as long as I can remember.  The churches I have attended in my lifetime have all become second homes to me. I like exploring their every nook and cranny, learning the quickest way to get from point a to point b, and admiring the beautifully artful touches that help lead people into worship.  
Upcountry stone church, Maui
I also like visiting churches whenever we travel. The buildings themselves are iconic to me - and if they've got either stained glass or some sort of steeple, then I'm in church-heaven.
a small wood-frame church in Nipomo, CA
Congregational church in Hanalei, Kauai
Looking out from that same church.
But...there's a limit to church-hopping/shopping. And mine has most definitely been reached. Four long months, we've been visiting churches other than our own. And yesterday was the last week of that particular experiment experience. We had originally planned to be back in our home congregation yesterday - but somehow we missed a very well-attended evangelical church that had been at the top of our list, so we added on one more week to pay them a visit.

And I'm both glad and sorry that we did. Glad because yesterday's jaunt served to underscore for me - maybe more than anything else could have - how deeply we love our congregation and how grateful we are to belong to this part of the body. And sorry because we experienced a few things yesterday that I surely wish we had not, including a public chastisement of some wayward leaders and a communion service that did not feel at like a communion service - at least to us. Good music (though I'll brag a little bit and say no where near as rich as what we enjoy each worshipful week at MCC) and a good Bible lesson. Not a sermon so much as a teaching, and a very well-done one, too. So the morning was mixed for us. Some mornings are like that, right?

We belong to a small denomination, but a growing one. The Evangelical Covenant church is a 'newbie' in historical time, formed in the 1880's by Swedish immigrants and thoroughly north American in ethos and ecclesiology. We are congregational by polity, but we are connected by a wonderful web of mutual care and concern and a list of shared values that have become absolutely central to my own understanding of who I am as the daughter of the Most High God. 

It is in the midst of this part of Christ's body that I have had my gifts affirmed. It is here that I have heard the call, first to seminary and then to pastoral ministry. It is here that I have watched God do a series of new things - reaching out intentionally to embrace women in ministry, multi-ethnic congregations and ministries, peace and justice ministries of all kinds.  

And all of it done with careful respect for the teachings of scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of every age. We value tradition and we value good change, we value liturgy and we value contemporary worship. We value the shared journey and we learn from one another. We're not perfect, but by God's grace, we are exceptionally open-hearted and open-handed. And we hold one another accountable, too. I miss that right now. I really, really do.  

So, I'm homesick. In a good way, I think. And I'm ready to be back home. And that's a very good thing.

I won't be returning to this particular role:

preaching my last sermon as associate pastor in December 2010
But I will be returning to worship in a space that looks a little bit like this:
the Holy Spirit window at the back of the chancel, framed by one of our locally wrought chandeliers
My husband and I are going to try really hard not to jump back into lots of responsibility, but rather ease back in - enjoying weekly worship, continuing to meet with our small group, prayerfully considering whatever options present themselves. But wow - will we be glad to sit in that sanctuary with those people again.  

It is true - we can worship our God anywhere and everywhere. And I have enjoyed having the experience of formally worshipping in a variety of spaces, with a variety of people. But 'doing church' is meant to be local, it is meant to be consistent. Done well, it is marked by commitment and mutual support, as together we offer God the 'work of our hands.' For that's what worship truly is - all of who we are, all of what we do - offered to God as an act of love and thanksgiving. 

I look forward to sitting in a familiar pew next week. It will be so good to be home.