8.22.2005

Church, hope, evangelism, etc.

Church is important to me. Important enough that being a congregational leader is my sure vocation. Church has been at the center of my faith journey. Back in 1999 or so when I decided to give Christianity another go-round - even though I didn't necessarily believe in God - I found that local congregations can be jewels, full of faithful and kind people who like to share. At a time when many of my peers were distancing themselves from organized religion, I found myself immersing myself in it.

When I couldn't pray, I could sit on my pew and be surrounded by people who could. When I couldn't read the Bible without wanting to shred it to pieces, I could receive grace from people for whom scripture was as vital as ligaments. When Jesus seemed ancient and dead, I could eat a piece of bread that had been blessed and broken as the Body of Christ. Church wasn't relevant, or sensible, or fun. I was bored to tears more often than not while sitting in Quaker meetings, and I was lonely on my kneeler during Episcopal Mass. But in the physical space of a handful of simple sanctuaries, my faith grew, timidly and awkwardly.

At FCC Pomona, a congregation that embodies the Disciples of Christ vision statement to be a church marked by true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice, I used to cry during worship because I was just so damn grateful to have found and been found by those people. I felt the same rush of grace while at General Assembly in Portland, thrilled to be in covenant with such faithful & humble people.

I cannot help but want to share this. But O Jesus, is that hard. No one likes to get a knock on the door- not when it's the Mormons, not when it's the Jehovah's Witnesses, not when it's the radically liberal Christian preacher-girl.

The word "evangelism" makes me cringe. It is a word that has been sharpened and narrowed. Evangelism has become, in many circles, synonymous with pushy, judgmental, manipulative behavior. Moderate and liberal Christians are often so loathe to be classed with fundamentalists that they wouldn't dare talk about their faith with anyone but their fellow churchgoers.

I have no idea how to introduce the practice of evangelism into my life and ministry. I do know that if I didn't genuinely think that the presence and grace of God was as essential to my life as air and water, if wasn't fully convinced that spirituality becomes more muscular when lived out in community, then I'd shut up and behave like a good liberal Christian.

This calling to evangelism is much less comfortable than my vocation as a pastoral minister. I always wondered at the call stories people tell about how they dreaded their vocation. Now I get it. I could very easily end up like Jonah, in the belly of a whale, over this one. Now that I think about it, there have been blue whale sightings off Long Beach. At least my new home will be roomy...

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