It is possible for the most well-meaing Christians to be wrong. Or, misguided. Or, blinded by grief. And though we did not fully understand our own hearts' condition, grief was certainly present. The situations causing that, I will not describe, but I will say that we had seen some of the most extreme failings of leadership the church sees. We had experienced long lasting pain in our family due to such failings.
Preparing for ministry through education and lay ministry, just as we were about to step into it, my husband was asked, then urged, to sign a paper saying he believed and would abide by certain beliefs that were not his. To sign would have been to lie. He did not sign.
Because of these combined things and I believe, our wounded, unhealed hearts, we felt strongly that church needed to be church in a different way...We didn't know how to make the changes, but we knew it had to be different.
With our congregational pastor's blessing, we left to follow what we sincerely believed was a call.
It is part of the human condition to want more but not be able to define what that means. To not be able to grasp the meaning except for fleetingly within the heart and mind. This is where we were, if that can possibly make any sense, and I certainly understand how some would say it doesn't.
Yes, we can write as if we know. We can even believe we know.
And still. Be wrong.
And sometimes, the only thing that can show us is time, much time, aloneness, and its resulting pain.
I have not learned that things are not wrong with the Church or it's leaders. There is yet much stink about this thing we call Kingdom. But perhaps this thing we perceive as Kingdom is not.
Perhaps the God I say I serve, the God I say is omnipotent, perhaps in His definition of Kingdom, those who would pervert His Kingdom are not included as a true part of His Kingdom.
Or perhaps, because of a long-ago confession, they are yet a part, and yet fallen and in need of kind confrontation, patience, and that ever-elusive thing we call unconditional love.
We did not leave the church building in pursuit of perfection. We left in pursuit of what we thought was a call to a home church ministry. Ministry that did not evolve. And if it had been God's plan, I know this, it would have happened. So somewhere along the way, we were wrong.
We started in a church that claimed to train in the area of home churches. And this we pursued only after years of Bible school-enough for credentialing-and committed ministry between the two of us. But the pastor there was silently facing personal crisis. We did not know this at first and believed the promises of upcoming training and ministry. More than nine months later this not only had not come to pass, but had not even begun.
Mystified, the effort was put forth to meet privately with the pastor, but again and again, he was unavailable. Finally, still bewildered, we left. The next week, the pastor's assistant showed up unannounced, to our home. In nine months, no one from the church had visited before. The assistant had never been told the reason why we were attending that church and when my husband realized this, he patiently explained our position. The assistant slowly lost the anger he had arrived with, and left our home in peace.
But for us, this was the beginning of a long term search, the longest in our history.
Our disappointment turned to anger as we realized that what had actually happened was that the pastor had indeed understood our goal, as in the very beginning we had met with him at length on several occasions. However, our goal for us was not his goal for us. His desire was to entrench us within his congregation for a period of time, and an indefinite amount of time later, for my husband to be 'on the Board' for a "couple of years". No, this was not our plan.
In time, we realized that we were not completely innocent. We had gone to this man's organization with an agenda. We had believed because of advertisement we'd read about the entire denomination, that he would be receptive and eager to train us in home church administration. We had assumed that he even knew anything about such things. We found he not only did not know anything about it, but furthermore, did not have any inclination towards it outside of it's perhaps one day in the far distant future, being a temporary seedling to be later moved into the traditional church setting. There was no desire in him to know any more about it than he thought he already knew. We were totally blind to this until it was far too late. But we were guilty, too. We were guilty of arrival in another's 'territory' with our own agenda. And that was a blindness perhaps caused by a form of selfishness.
For that, I am very sorry.
But now, truly out of 'the organized church', we thought we may be mentored by other home churches in the area. Reading books was not enough. We discovered that finding the real home church we had heard and read of was like trying to hold water in the hand. And finding one without a religious spirit, the one thing all proclaimed not to have, was difficult.
This search included a house church struggling with a split within it's tiny group, another with leaders eager to tell us terrible things about people we knew, another practicing Old Testament laws and customs-too complicated for our already-complicated lives, and two others too far away to meet with regularly. This is something we had come to understand was imperative to the growing of godly relationships.
For a short time, we met with some other searching friends and some new friends in our own living room. But that was not good for reasons I will not express here.
After that, we met together, just the two of us and though it was good, very good, we both realized how much we missed corporate worship and fellowship with other Christians.
Understand that each and every one of these groups were sincere. Each was reaching and looking for something better than what they had found. Each was strongly aware of the major flaws within today's church. Each, including us, perhaps could not see the trees within the forest because of the forest itself.
Yes, there are flaws. Dozens and dozens of them. But there are the True-Hearts as well. The 'Brave Hearts', if you will...The ones who see, but stay. The ones who hurt, but keep on loving and pushing ahead in spite of the pain and because of the Overcoming Love of their Savior.
We made a point to try to meet with other Christian friends...one or two for dinner, etc, regularly. We enjoyed continued friendships with many old and some new friends met through the groups we'd visited. But there remained the emptiness.
Knowing a large church was not going to fill our need for relationship, we renewed our prayers and began to seek yet again. We followed the advice of some friends who knew our situation and visited a very small church. We continued attendance there, every other week, for several months. The pastor discovered in conversation with us that my husband had all he needed for credentialing and began to urge him to speak on Sundays. But my husband was fighting illness at the time and didn't believe he was called to do this and resisted. The push continued, my husband became very uncomfortable with it, and we slowly stopped attending.
We tried another, nondenominational, very young and quite liberal church. We were impressed by the life, especially of the youth there. But the people of our age there were about one in fifty. Again, we are seeking relationships. There didn't need to be anything wrong in any other area...We need relationships.
We visited another church, then another.
I wanted to cry. I did cry. And even now, as I think it's all over, I still do not fully understand. But I keep coming back to the idea of Brave Hearts. And I do know the One who knows, and I know He does love me and He does love my husband.
We have since found another mid-sized, charismatic but nondenominational church with people of all ages, and plenty our age. We have heard two pastors speak. We have heard two different worship leaders. We have had good after church conversations with people of the church and although no one's been pushy, everyone has seemed friendly.
It is not without its imperfections, even if we don't yet see them. But it is my honest hope that this is our new home.
Today, I erase some of my past feelings regarding the Church. They, along with some of the posts I submitted while in the clutches of despair, (Anne of Green Gables' Marilla would say I turned my back on God, although I do not quite agree), are gone.
I hope not to write this long again in a blog. I know a blog is supposed to be shorter and sweeter. But as we have journeyed in this, we have made new discoveries in other areas that I am eager to share, but don't feel I can without first closing this chapter.
It's a chapter I hope to never have to read again.