The Great Divorce

It's been a strange time, being church-less after attending services at an evangelical church pretty much every Sunday for past ten years and Catholic mass for forty-five years before that. Sundays meant church for as long as I can remember. They will again, I have no doubt, because I feel it's important to get together as a community to worship and celebrate on a regular basis. At the moment my wife and I have different opinions about what this should look like, but we'll figure it out.

In the meantime, I've been watching the emotional progression of my friends Marty and Al, former pastor and assistant pastor of the church from which we've all stepped (or been pushed) away. There has been a gamut of emotion, including anger and resentment. In many ways I know what they are feeling, though from a different perspective. I've been through a divorce, seen a life I once assumed would be a constant in ways not the least of which being who my partner in this journey of life would be, suddenly fragment and come apart. Said life eventually fell together in wonderful ways and I'm certain for my friends the story will end the same. But first, they need to go through the ups and downs of their respective divorces.

Don't get me wrong - these two and their wives are so happily married that birds fly around them with garlands of flowers in their beaks. It's sick. Even so, a divorce is happening. We keep the illusion that marriage is forever, and it will always be an illusion if both parties don't work hard at it every day. We also see "church" as another relationship that will be constant in our life. If it's working, not a cult-of-personality but a strong, cohesive group of believers striving and living together for the purpose of honoring God and each other, how could it not last forever? After all, that description paints our old church home perfectly.

Well, God knows (literally) that our enemy hates that sort of thing and will do anything to dismantle it. We talked about this last time. In the end our little church-world came apart and its former leaders were left with the same emotions and crises of relational faith any divorcee will experience when the world they thought they knew is torn away. They understand why it happened, but it hurts because there has been betrayal. What they once saw as "right" with religion is suddenly being questioned. In some ways this is a good thing - when we stop questioning and keeping our focus on what we care about, we allow it to rust away. There are other aspects of "church" which might only appear negative in the moment, in light of the pain, but will come to be seen as "good" again in the future. One hopes.

On the other side of the coin, I am in the unique position of suddenly understanding - even if just a little - what my now-adult children went through. In their younger lives, family was one thing they probably assumed would never change - always be there for them - hold up against any storm. Then their mother and I sat them down in January of 2010 and explained how everything was a lie and it was all coming to an end.

My spiritual parents, as it were, announced they were getting a divorce a few months ago and now it is done. I am recently as yesterday grieving the death of the very church I'd dreamed of being a part of, one I had gladly gotten up at 5:15 am every Sunday morning for setup, stayed until the afternoon to take down. One where my younger kids always were excited about attending.  But the cracks growing in the organization had gone too long unattended, and things ended. Pride, mostly, let it die. Hopefully humility will help restore it to what it once was, though this may not happen quickly. Some things  simply need to be brought into the light.

Many of us are now left with a broken church family struggling to decide how to move forward with this thing called "church". Family is, truly, what we'd found these past five years. One with shared purpose and a love for each other that transcended any differences. Now we cling together online mostly, sometimes having lunch, traveling to other churches as smaller exploratory groups to work out what life will look like post-divorce. Even others have stayed at the old place and this also is perfectly acceptable, even expected.

Who are you going to live with, Mom or Dad? A horrifying question no child should have to answer, but which most need to at some point. For me, I'm a "kid" in his mid-fifties having to answer this. Marty and his wife Carie, Al and Erica, Linda and I and everyone else will find what answer works for us. For the moment, we have to pray and lean into God and each other, and not let our light dim too much.

If nothing else, people are looking at us very closely to see how we respond. Waiting for us to prove that "church" is not the building, or the day, but who we are.


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