I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.
For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.
But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.
When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.
Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.
For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.
I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.
I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?
One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.
And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.
She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?
The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.
Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?
Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!)