(part I of this story can be found here)
‘Slow dawning of realisation’ is somewhat of an understatement. It took me 18 months to admit that we (I) did not go to this particular church. 18 months of driving home from church sobbing. 18 months littered with days of anger, bitterness, indignation, and accusations.
But more than all those things: I was sad. Wretchedly sad.
I had been a part of the team that had planted this church. As a pretending-to-be-confident-secretly-petrified-18-year-old I had moved from country to city to commit my heart and energy to this seedling of a church. I had watched it grow from the few of us to a thriving community embracing its neighbours and learning to live in the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom. I had the extraordinary honour of being the Youth Pastor of this community. A role that I loved and was deeply humbled and terrified of: in fairly equal measures.
My once home and my heart no longer sang in harmony.
The dissonance grieved me more deeply than I can say. Those 18 months of letting go, along with the following years of not finding a ‘home’, were sad, desolate and confusing. This ‘local church girl’ was without a church. On unsteady feet I entered a season of deep uncertainty and questioning. Much of who I was and how I expressed my faith was wrapped up in my relationships with people from this church and the heritage this place had given me. Absolutes became negotiable, solidity became fluid, and I was floundering in the insecurity of it all.
Throughout this time we regularly attended a church led by some dear friends of ours. It was a gentle, honest, deliberate and kind community. It became a place of great rest. But ultimately we knew that this wasn’t the place for us: it was a 25 minute drive away – too far for my ‘local church’ heart.
A number of good friends of ours went to a church not far from us. We decided to visit one Sunday morning, ‘just to see’. We walked in and were surprised by the buzz in the building. Everyone was congregated around a tea/coffee table, drinking, eating, laughing and chatting, there was palpable joy. The service was lovely, the people were kind and the kids were well looked after.
But my hesitant heart couldn’t bear another break up and I was reticent to go back.
Each Sunday AJ would gently suggest going to church, sometimes I said yes, sometimes no. He had already fallen in love with these people. I had not. It took me many months of God reminding me of what He had long ago written on my heart before I was ready to commit.
And then it happened, suddenly and decisively, I fell in love with this church.
We had only been going along for a few months when our youngest daughter was born. One of the pastors organised meals for our family for the week after her arrival. One night when our baby was only days old, there was a knock at the door and a lady who I had never seen, let alone met, was standing there, laden down with food. She delivered her homemade meal, adored our baby girl, and left. I stood in the middle of our lounge room, speechless and amazed. I couldn’t believe that this community, complete strangers!, were celebrating our baby’s arrival with us, welcoming her into the world with their generosity and kindness. Their goodness dissolved my wariness.
And here we are, 2 1/2 years later. This is indeed the place for us. Creativity is encouraged, the Word is taught, kindness is a way of life, mission is core and laughter abounds. I have found people that know me and love me, and who encourage me to pursue God with my hands, feet and words. It is not perfect – it is not meant to be. But it is good. Very, very good.
That long season of uncertainty was, of course, necessary. My questions regarding faith, church, community and grace are far from resolved. But my heart is considerably healed and there is time and energy to continue to seek answers. What I am sure of is that the local church does indeed occupy a special place in my heart, and I am honoured to be a part of our local church. What I am sure of is that I am grateful for my heritage. And I am sure there will be seasons to come that will feel dark and unsure, but I am also sure that light and life wait their turn, and Jesus delights to redeem.
(There is so much of this story that I haven’t told here. Partly out of respect for others, and partly because I know that there are necessary conversations that I haven’t had yet. Healing continues, in all manners and ways: and the writing of this part of the story is one of those ways)