I haven’t ever left the church, but I haven’t always loved it.
I considered beginning with some anecdote or at least a portion of my long-term relationship with church, until I realized that the most honest thing to write is sometimes the most direct one. Now, as my family would say, I have some ‘splaining to do.
Let me begin by explaining that the line “I grew up in the church and in a Christian home” is somewhat unusual on my native Oregon coast; the sketches about cults and wacky spirituality you’ve seen on Portlandia are funny because they’re true. That’s the reality outside of the church. Inside the church, I suppose it’s much like your home congregation, assuming your church is mildly Pentecostal/Wesleyan, fond of potlucks, and carpeted in an odd discount color (ours was burnt orange).
Not all of them had orange carpet; my family moved enough to land us in different churches and denominations, some bigger and with a wider range of potluck dishes. And, when I went off to college (a Christian university in the Bible Belt, no less), I found a church much like the ones I’d grown up in (albeit rose pink).
My story so far doesn’t really explain anything, unless you consider that I may have stayed in church for potlucks (possibly true in my “starving college student days”) and that I have an unhealthy attachment to ugly carpet (also plausible). The primary reason, for many years at least, is that I am devotedly stubborn. I don’t pretend that stubbornness is a positive motivation, but it is a necessary one when the church is your home and vaguely spiritual and fiercely individual Oregon is your backyard. For what it’s worth, I also enjoyed church. I like reading the Bible; I like playing the piano; I like using baptism as an excuse to jump into the Pacific; I like feeling wanted and included.
Yet, for all my stubbornness and enjoyment of church, I didn’t always love it. On a scale of ‘totally disinterested’ to ‘I’d die for that,’ my love for the church is often somewhere around a ‘tolerant.’ Church, because it is people, is quirky and obnoxious. And that’s exactly why I need–and incidentally, why Christ loves–it.
I wish I could pinpoint the significant event that turned my tolerance for church into a love. As it is, I have no such event- some Pentecostal I am, eh? There are days, especially here at the seminary community, that I am still merely tolerant. I tolerate the “shh-badabada-shh” of praying in tongues at group prayer in the early morning; I tolerate the disorganization and lethargy of council meetings.
But I tolerate these quirks now because I love these people, the church. These are the days when my tolerance is supernaturally deepened into something more. It was on one of those days that I decided to go to this super-small seminary in the heart of Buenos Aires. When I accidentally visited it two years ago, I saw in the students the love of Christ for the church: a love that is just as present in preaching and studying as in hanging up someone else’s laundry or sharing the chocolate you’d bought for yourself. It is a love that asks forgiveness, one that washes your dusty feet, and one that hugs you when you’d rather retreat inside yourself. Church, it turns out, is an awful lot like community.
I need this community, just as it needs me. With or without burnt orange carpet, I love the church.
A woman of many adventures, Jill is currently residing in Argentina and attending seminary. Keep up with her on her blog, Jilliteracy.