What Do You Want Church to Make You?: E-pistle 01.26.12

What Do You Want Church to Make You?: E-pistle  01.26.12

Maybe this is not be the week for an E-pistle about the church’s net effect on our lives! But I’ll ask anyway: are you strengthened by your participation at church, or does church bring out your lesser side?

It’s an important question. But why am I worried about asking now? Well, you see, congregational meetings can have strange effects on individuals and communities:

~ Mild-mannered, reasonable folk all of a sudden become suspicious, obstinate, even irrational. A friend of mine insists it’s his birth right as a “New England congregationalist” (the heartland of the other branch of the UCC) to become obstreperous at the annual meeting. I believe him: I’ve witnessed him act out as if his faithfulness depends on it.

~ Whole faith communities, moving along at a clip and on an even keel, come to an abrupt halt, even founder in the congregational meeting. Tempers and impatience and needling rise. Church, rather than an intimate community wherein there’s room, understanding and mercy enough for everyone, starts to look like the Republicans and Democrats never failing to miss an opportunity for nastiness in Congress, differing, even battling to death over the most inconsequential detail.

I’ve often wondered: do congregational meetings simply uncover and let loose tensions that are already simmering, lurking in our subterranean unconscious? Or is there something in the UCC’s governance structure and demanding democratic culture that engenders unclean spirits and causes emotions to flare like sunspots?

I confess, I’ve sat through congregational meetings — particularly when I was the Regional Conference Minister who only got invited when they were going to be bad — and prayed silently for a herd of swine to show up that Jesus might have a destination to which to banish our demons!

Not really worried about our annual meeting on Sunday, I do wonder what I’ve written will do for attendance! Have I just scared people off, or upped our numbers as people look forward to the potential entertainment of a church fight?

My real question is about the bigger picture. It’s timely with all the annual reports, and their implied evaluation. Last Sunday, we sang, “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.” The verses led us to mouth a desire to be more loving, more holy, more like Jesus. We also said together the words of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Is that what church does for you… or is it what you hope it will do for you?

Personally, I pray church makes me:
~ more emotionally present and aware… able to care rightly about the interaction, even people, that otherwise I might not notice sufficiently,
~ quicker to forgive more completely,
~ more trusting (I think that’s the same as ‘worrying less’ AND ‘remembering it’s about God, not about me’), and
~ more able to see God in our world, in other people and in my own life.
I hope the annual meeting is a step forward towards these growing edges.

How do you hope your involvement here transforms you? (If you’d like to share with me, I’d be honored to hear). And how’s the church doing with your metamorphosis?

Maybe, each year, at the annual meeting, we shouldn’t write up what our programs did. Instead, we should aim for deeper evaluation: personally reflection on the characteristics we want (or need) to work on in our Christian lives. And whether or not church is helping?

…Maybe most of “all we try” (and are tied up with!) at church is as simple as that…

See you on Sunday,

Michael

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