Sunday morning: Imogen stomps angrily into church, sits down with a glare and hisses “I hate church”.
A head turns in the pew in front, whispers back, kindly: “We’ve all been there.”
I see a hoodie online with the words “Sorry I’m Late. I didn’t want to come.” An alternative Sunday outfit, I wonder? For the outlier?
“I love my little church,” Addie Zierman says. “I believe it is vital to my healing and to my becoming. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel fraught to me a lot of the time.”
This is simply true, for some of us.
It sounds like complaining, though – the fraught feelings, the not wanting to come.
Where do you put fraught feelings?
You stuff them somewhere, usually.
You feel ashamed of them when you read motivational things from good people.
2 of my favourite people in the world don’t go to church any more. They are wise and thoughtful and honest and brave. Their journeys have been long and nuanced and they have involved pain.
One of them told me that, for now, she was learning from the bees who live in the hives in her garden. The other spoke of tomato plants.
People make fun of that, don’t they? From pulpits. Online. They say it’s not ok. They call the ex-church-goers back from their gardens. But they call from a distance, and I don’t think that works.
I go to church and it is fraught and it is beautiful. I am learning to show up and linger in community where I don’t fit in (but where I can belong). Currently my journey is about choosing presence over peace and learning to let go of the crafted, curated life I want to have. I have needed help with this, to be honest.
My friends ask me about church and how it is and how I am. I ask about the bees and the tomato plants and the pain. I learn from the books they read and the podcasts they love, I am changed by who they are in the world. I count them among my blessings.
“It is hard to trust in the slow work of God”, Margaret Guenther says.
The garden can teach us, surely?
Many of us have been saved by the “me too” we hear when we share our stories, or that we feel when we hear someone else’s.
“I get it”.
It’s a beautiful thing. A healing relief.
But – currently – we are usually all in slightly different places. It’s such a temptation to want to fast-track others along a journey that has been deep and slow and long for us.
You struggle with church? Me too! Now, here is everything I learnt, with a bow on top. (See you on Sunday morning, I’ll keep you a seat).
Or, we sweep up individuals in patronising generalisations. We are all 5-year-olds – stamping our feet, needing to learn to behave.
Let’s give each other permission – to wear the hoodie, or tend to the garden. I trust in the slow work of God for me, and just as importantly, I trust in it for you.