I went to Oregon this past weekend to be present for my grandson, Austin’s, Black Belt graduation. When my son picked me up at the airport on Thursday, he asked me if there was anything else special I wanted to do this weekend, and I said that I’d like to go to church.
When I went to seminary over thirty years ago, I found studying about God and theology and the Bible and liturgy really messed with my relationship with God. How to find the Holy One when God was a test to be taken, a paper to be written, and another chapter to be read? I found my way, thankfully, to a deeper relationship with God.
I find myself in a similar place after serving as a priest on the Diocesan staff. This time, God and I are really good, but I have my struggles with the church.
Worshipping nearly every week in a different church, I find myself without a church community or home. When I am at church, I am usually there to problem solve and listen. I do my very best to worship, but all too often I am present to work. It’s messing with finding Church (the gathered body of Christ)when I am at church (a building with people gathered).
I am craving the Holy in the gathered community.
Sunday when my Bend family got up, my son announced we were all going to church (the grandboys doing the nooooooo! that greets so many Sunday morning families). They aren’t attending church on a regular basis, so I got to choose where we would go. I had worshipped in a local mainline Protestant church on another visit, so I chose that.
The worship space was nearly filled with people whose hair color was the same as mine. The ushers expressed delight at seeing a young family (tip: I don’t think it’s a best practice to welcome with the words, “Oh! Young people!” It may only point out that the congregation is of riper years, and the words can have a feel of desperation rather welcome).
Disappointingly, I could not move myself from work-mode to worship. I did find a Holy center in the music and the pastor’s prayer at communion. But in the post-pandemic search for who the church is to be in this new world, almost everything else in the service, for me, could have been experienced at any other well-intentioned gathering. It was too safe.
I know that we receive what we put into worship, so I take my own responsibility for my experience. I will say that the things I missed helped me in my own discernment of what is Church. I need to hear Scripture read with respect and a little awe; I need corporate prayer that is not words read but prayed; I need times to pause to let words sink in.
I know that worship is not about what we feel but about our presence. I was present and my family was, too, and I know that whether we feel or know it or not, God blessed us.
Which leads me to karate.
But I’m thinking about how we are Church when most people won’t ever walk through church doors.
On the occasions when I took my grandboys to karate and had the gift to watch their classes, I had been impressed with the values that were being taught. I told Mr. White, that although God is never mentioned, there was a glimpse into God’s hope for the world in what I see happen there.
After Black Belt graduation, I had a rich conversation with Mr. White, the karate instructor. I knew that he had been a youth pastor before he began to teach karate. He told me about his journey from ministry in the church to (my words) ministry in the world.
I told Mr. White the Christian values I saw in the karate studio even when Jesus’ name was never mentioned. I saw people who would never enter a church for one reason or another be respected and welcomed.
I told him I saw an amazing diversity of people who are challenged to rise to their very best. I saw the gift of discipline; encouragement when encouragement was needed; correction when that was necessary. I saw an unlikely group of people working together in community as they worked through their own individual program. There were intentional opportunities for the karate students to serve outside of class. These are some of the characteristics of church.
Mr. White told me about a vision someone had had about God’s call on his life. Mr. White understood the vision to mean that he would be a senior pastor in a church. He told me about the day in the karate studio that he realized that he had misunderstood; that this was exactly “the church” where God wanted him.
In the sermon yesterday, the pastor said this (more or less):
In the 1960s, a Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama, wrote a book, Three Mile an Hour God (SCM Press). He noticed that the average speed that human beings walk at is three miles per hour. Jesus, who is God, walked at three miles per hour. God, who is love, walks at three miles per hour. Love has a speed, Koyama says, and that speed is slow. That speed is gentle. That speed is tender.
I keep thinking and praying about church. I keep thinking and praying about Church.
Knowing that God is slow and gentle and tender, how am I to be church wherever Church may be?
I guess I did find Church this weekend. And the Holy, too.