Sunday, June 9, 2013

How We Picked Our Church

 Photo taken at a different church in our neighborhood. Love their sign. So much.

 Our vision is a neighborhood transformed by Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ.
-St. Mark's United Methodist Church, mission statement

We knew they were planning to pray for him today, but I had no idea what that might mean. Either way, I was grateful. I had no expectations and I've managed to chip away most of the tired, bent-up ideas about what makes a prayer noteworthy, the ones pressed into my conscience like clay in a mold.

I know now that God hears every prayer. He's not standing with a triage clipboard, funneling the loud and fancy prayers through a special, taller gate, making the meek ones, the fumbling ones, the memorized ones wait in line.

Still, I wasn't expecting our pastor to call the whole church up. For some reason, it surprised me when he told them to come, every one, and lay hands on Cory and I. I know by now that Pastor's words beg Jesus. They drip with the quiet power of the holy spirit. They're quiet and certain, well-thought and channeled straight from his heart. But asking the entire body to surround us? Huh. I sort of loved it.

So they came with canes, on unsteady knees. They rolled oxygen tanks on little wheels. They came in ties and in blue jeans. They came as sinners, saved only by grace, and they touched my back, their love burning straight through my jacket.

Every week we sit in wonder at the church God gave us. We lean forward to listen, we keep trying to learn names. We belong already because they made us their own and we took that gift and knew we would hold it.

The number of churches I've attended over the years crosses my right hand and ends somewhere on my left. These churches have grown me up in big ways and small ones. They have shown me Christ in different ways and have loved me well. But I was taught as a girl that I should go where I was "fed". There's a root of truth in that, but it may not go as deeply as I once thought.

My obligation is to find a church, one whose heart beats the Gospel, one that stands in reverence of the words of Christ. These things are not optional. But to us, most everything else is, and our priorities have shifted.

We're not interested in a tricked-out church.

We've grown bone weary of searching for the place that would fill us, shape us, form us, entertain us, train our children, give us a wide social network, provide us with options, cater to our fickle hearts and greedy souls.

Church wasn't tasked with any of that.

We used to be allergic to the different shades of theology, the different political leanings. We got hung up on nuances about communion and Sunday School. A pastor's wife who had chosen to keep her maiden name would have set off every alarm.

We didn't know that those differences would end up spinning us toward each other and that building a community with odd-shaped stones (among which we are surely the oddest) would feel like a fortress, albeit a small one.

We came to this church because God spoke to us about blooming where He planted us - finding a body of believers on our street, so when we invite our neighbors, it's easier for them to say yes. In our obedience to that, we were not guaranteed a single other thing. We didn't know if there would be a kids program or if our short people would like it. We didn't know if the service time would fall on our desired hour or what type of songs they would sing when we got there.

We found what we needed and we found what we didn't even know we needed. We found a church who seems to understand, on an individual and corporate level, its humanity - that in-born knack for screwing things up and getting things wrong. That is an attitude that invites a reliance on Christ.

We found a small group of people, mostly old and entirely unassuming, that doesn't try to stack the deck so people will come to them. They meet together, sing on-and-off-key, hobble up front for prayer, kneel for communion, eat pizza and pie. They do all of those things because they know in their brokenness that they need more of Jesus and that they find Him together. They do all of those things fueled by a singular belief - that they were called to go out - and those are the things that set their hearts right for the going. They are the hands and feet and arms and backs of Jesus. They are humbled sinners and failing humans. Their eyes are fixed on the eyes all around them. This is a church that knows and embraces its mission field. This is a people who finds mutuality in shared brokenness.

There's little pomp and circumstance, other than the felt banners switched out weekly and homemade cookies before service. There's a fritz-prone sound system and a pastor in Teva sandals. There are 2 rows of choir robes, led enthusiastically by the clerk from the auto parts store. The services are short and planned well in advance, two things I was taught as a child signaled discord with the Holy Spirit. There are strands of liturgy woven through the services and I find that I'm falling in love. In Red Letter Revolution, Tony Campolo says, "Members of churches that have high levels of liturgy often have high levels of loyalty to their churches." While loyalty to a particular church is not our goal, I'm starting to understand the truth in his words. Our hearts are becoming bound with the hearts around us in common thought, prayer, and belief. Some may find the Spirit lacking in the rote, but we find just the opposite. We find a meditative opportunity to trust in words we know by heart, words echoed from the lips in the next pew and the one behind.

There's a distinct rhythm to our Sundays, and I walk home wanting more. So God takes a wrecking-ball to all my smart assumptions about church and denomination. He reminds me again, so graciously, of my immaturity and my bent toward knowing it all.

All I know is that no person in the pew, no pastor in the pulpit is perfect. No church is perfect. It's okay to lead with that.

It all shakes straight down the line. It makes perfect sense that in this season where we're learning the full radiance of less, our hearts would find their home at the tiny church on the corner, devoid of all pretense, offering the only thing we need.