June 25, 2012

Leaving Church

My church is in the midst of making some big decisions about governance, and a member of our advisory committee gave us some helpful advice. He pointed out that individuals who are not fully committed to the community sometimes can have an inordinate amount of sway. Perhaps they threaten to leave if we change the music, for example. We, as a community, want to grow and be a place where all are welcome, so we may be inclined to bend over backwards to keep them around. This isn’t always the best course of action.

We all know someone who has gotten angry about a particular decision the church has made. Sometimes we are that person. It could be the choice of hymns, the new vestments, or the decision to replace pews with chairs. Much of theology is intuitive and personal, and what may be a small matter to some may have deep personal and theological significance to another. How do we proceed?

We should listen and try to understand when someone gets upset about a decision the church has made. The leaders in the community then move forward with as much compassion as possible. By leaders I don’t mean only priests and the vestry, but those who are committed to and active in the community. Through reflection, working toward consensus, and sometimes voting, the congregation can discern how to proceed. Those who are truly committed to the community, and to doing the will of God, rather than to a particular articulation or expression of a personal theology, will more often than not be able to live with the decisions. But inevitably there will be those who place their particular inclination above the decision of the church community.

Not everyone can be comfortable and happy in every church. People sometimes leave churches over big and small things, be it a serious theological difference, or not liking the music. The church is big and diverse, and we have to learn to embrace the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable for a parishioner who isn’t able to place the community and its expression of God’ mission above his or her own needs, or perhaps simply isn’t at home in the community, to find another community.

God. The core of the community, by being true and its mission and its sense of what God is calling it to do, should lead the church, not the people who cannot embrace the group because some of his or her basic needs cannot be met by that community. Ultimately, though we sometimes fail, we are all striving to serve We can still love each other, even if we aren’t meant to attend the same church.