Does Church Matter?

As I have come to experience God’s abundance this past month, I have also sensed that my faith community, my Quaker meeting, isn’t a natural place for me to explore abundance. (In fact, I almost wrote a piece entitled “Would someone please give my Meeting some Prozac?” before I determined that my musings on that belonged in a different forum.) As I talk to people from other churches, too, I hear that they don’t feel supported as they experience God’s abundance overflow into care for the marginalized, either.

Does it matter whether I and others feel supported in this by our faith communities? Yes and no.

It doesn’t matter in the sense that I am a resourceful person who can find like-minded people for spiritual sustenance and accountability on my journey. Even more importantly, as I wrote in my previous post, God speaks to me without intermediary and abundantly provides all the sustenance and accountability anyone could ever need! Hallelujah!

However, it does matter in the sense in which George Fox, the man who is credited with founding Quakerism around 1650, saved a special kind of rage for the priests of his time because he felt they didn’t teach people the things that were really important about religion. George read all the passages in the Old Testament and New about sheep and shepherds, perhaps especially John 10 in which Jesus weeps over the “hired shepherd”, who when he sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and runs away, leaving the sheep to be snatched or scattered by the wolf. George really had it in for priests who were only in it for the paycheck…. 

“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place.” Jeremiah 50:6 (NIV)

So what is this thing that is at the core of Christianity that the church should be teaching? Jim Wallis often talks about one of his professors in seminary telling the class to take a pair of scissors and cut out of the Bible every story and passage that has to do with God requiring people to show special concern for the marginalized. The class did as they were told, and discovered there was almost nothing left when they were finished!

In my mind, a faith community that does not evoke the sense of God’s abundance is not doing its job. A church/Meeting that doesn’t put care for the marginalized at the center is “letting its sheep stray”. Like George Fox, I can tap into a whole lot of anger on this topic, and maybe that’s why I am called to ministry as a chaplain and spiritual director.

What does this stir up in you, gentle reader?

Query for prayerful consideration:

Does my faith community put at its center the things that I believe are at the heart of my faith? Does it matter whether or not it does? 

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13 Responses to “Does Church Matter?”

  1. Donna Says:

    God’s ringing message throughout both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is: “It’s the oppressed, stupid!” Our work and joy is to walk with the poor and outcast. Our response to what we see and hear while we walk together is acting with justice and compassion.

    Yes, I can work on behalf of the homeless or hungry on my own or with nonprofits, and that work can feed me spiritually…but individually. I think that as church, we are called–as a community–to praise God and to care for *each* other and for *the* other.

    At my church, we do a good job of caring for each other but can’t seem to find the time or motivation to extend ourselves as a matter of course on behalf of and with the marginalized. We seem to prefer our outreach to be safe, remote, and bank-check-based. This approach (or lack of one) hardly contributes to developing disciples of Christ.

    There is a real hunger among a minority of our church members to walk the proverbial talk, but clergy lacks the wherewithal to ground the congregation in prayer and step out in faith; and council leadership is split, blue state vs red state-like, about the kinds of outreach deemed appropriate or do-able for us.

    Do I try to find a church that values neighbor as much as self? Do I stay put, as a pebble in my church’s shoe, while starving spiritually? Do I join with like-minded others to create something new? All grist for the mill.

  2. Martin Kelley Says:

    Hi Suzanne: yikes, I’m going to have to start bookmarking every one of your posts!

    I’m not sure quite how it’s related but one opening that has freed up my ministry is a personal conviction that the number of potential Friends out there vastly outnumbers the current membership numbers. I don’t think God revealed these insights to us so we could be the achingly small and self-absorbed group that we are. If that’s true, then we should be less worried about maintaining the social niceties of our cozy meetinghouses and more worried about the perils of keeping all this to ourselves.

    To your query: the Meeting I currently attend does not have as its center most of the concerns that I carry. I don’t mind because the concern it holds most strongly is the careful discernment of gospel ministry, both vocal and vocational and it’s center is a living, experienced sense of Christ. Right now I feel most clearly led to share the good news to those outside the Religious Society of Friends so my Meeting’s outward form (including its distance) is less important than its groundedness. I’m quite grateful the meeting has local Friends led to pay the electric bills, collect bids for repairs, etc., and assume that at some point my leadings might shift once more to the local and practical. I’m curious to hear how other Friends will answer your query!

    Martin @ Quaker Ranter

  3. Allison Says:

    Hi Susanne,

    This post stirs up in me the fact that I have been feeling like a lost sheep lately. I am new to the American working world and as an activist, I am dedicated to helping others. What I’m constantly teetering on the brink of is burnout from caring too much. As a young person, I want a community that will help me grow up in a balanced way. I do feel that what God reveals to me is more energy than I could ever ask for, but of course it gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, and that’s when other humans can help. I brought with me to Quakerism my own “religion” (that is, my personal understanding of the Inner Light) and therefore other people’s lectures about what that is are less of interest to me than their being living, breathing examples of it.

    Quakerism has a lot of potential, but in general what I’m feeling at the moment, it’s like dry toast.

  4. Susanne Kromberg Says:

    Allison,
    Like you, I think most of us alternate between being a shepherd and being a sheep. There are times when I need a gentle, loving boot in the behind to remind me to put my faith into action – to remind me to be a shepherd. There are also times when I need a shepherd to tell me: “Well done, little sheep. Now rest and turn it over to God. Munch on God’s green grass and drink from the Living Water. Let me restore your soul. Dear little sheep, don’t move a hoof until you are rested and refreshed!”
    I wish the shepherd would also say to you and me, “There is much that is wrong in the world, but you have done your part. Rest now, and let God continue to work within men and women. God will call upon you again, dear faithful sheep, but all I want you to do right now is rest and enjoy being with all the other sheep here in this valley of love and delight.”
    Blessings,
    Susanne

  5. Allison Says:

    Thanks Susanne, that’s exactly what I needed! Pouring over Buddhist books on self-care and self-love are good, but it’s even better to have someone tell you that from your spiritual community. My special partner does that too, but since he lives across the country, it is another reason I’ve turned to religion, to take the pressure off him and also to have it nearby when I need it.

    I am going to start a new blog soon called RainbowFriends.net and my goal is to speak to Friends and friends, people who especially need this message of lovingkindness emanating from within.

    Peace,
    Allison

  6. Bill Samuel Says:

    At my former meeting, I ultimately answered no to your query, and, after a long period of wandering, joined a faith community where I could answer yes to it. Its mission is “To be and make disciples in authentic community for the good of the world.” And we have just developed a vision – see http://www.crcc.org/section.php?SectionID=164 – which really is a vision, a dream of what is possible not five action points or a creedal statement, and a dream which does IMHO capture what Christ is all about.

    As individuals, we may sometimes be called to stay in a place where those around us do not share a vision and core values with us. We may be called to that at some point in our lives but not another. I think when we find this it properly raises real questions in our mind, but we must not assume the answer but go to our Inward Teacher to find it.

    I spent a lot of time beating my head against the wall trying to change my faith community into what I felt it should be. Ultimately that felt like arrogance. They were who they were, and instead of berating them for not being what I felt they should be, I had to find another way, which after many years, wound up being joining another faith community where I could say “yes and amen” to what they were about.

  7. GrumblySeeker Says:

    I am just chiming in to say that I am really intrigued by Donna’s response above. Donna, I really connected with your sentiments and am interested to find out if you have a blog of your own? If so please let me know. rachelmichellek — AT —- yahoo

    To Suzanne–
    I am interested to hear what ways you may have tried, to encourage your faith community to put those priorities into its center. Maybe others are feeling that same way you do about these issues, and are just waiting for someone to step forward and bring it up, and motivate others? It may not end up being as much work as having to put on the “hat” of the “shepherd”– you may just be able to be a springboard person that begins certain ideas and projects to start rolling, and others’ energy can carry them on? Just some (not fully formed) ideas that came to mind as I read your post.

  8. Allison Says:

    Hi Susanne,
    I have been feeling very frustrated lately. Someone told me it’s about faith and community, not one or the other. I like the faith part, but the image of the community makes me frustrated. I know they are very good, kind people. But they are also largely white, middle class, and I don’t feel that serving the marginalized is central. I am tempted to pick up and go somewhere more multicultural and charitable, even if that means I have to go somewhere that doesn’t have the faith practice (the unprogrammed Meeting) that I like so much. I don’t understand why if I have a concern about homelessness, I have to go to a committee and explain to them this concern. I mean, I thought this was kind of the point of everything. Am I wrong? Your thoughts?

  9. Donna Pierce Says:

    Allison, this fall I experienced something very similar to what you describe in your 1/14 comment. As my church’s Outreach Ministry chair, I brought before the Church Council and then the congregation a pressing need of a local homeless group, Tent City 3. Every 1 to 3 months, they need to find a church that will host their community on some church grounds, usually a parking lot, as agreed to in a consent decree with the city of Seattle.

    Although there were many people in the congregation who believed strongly that we should host Tent City in Dec/Jan/Feb, a very small crabby group of folks stirred up the surrounding neighbors into a fervor of hatred and fear about Tent City possibly coming. Before the congregation had more than one meeting to discuss it, clergy and Council stopped the discussion cold. Reason given? It would distract us from our $2.5 million capital campaign. Indeed, some folks had called the pastor to tell them that they wouldn’t give to the capital campaign if we hosted Tent City. No one ever thought that it might have been the capital campaign that was distracting us from our mission of caring for and walking with poor homeless folks.

    Now, Council wants to appoint a “Task Force on Homelessness” to discuss how we might want to respond to this “Issue.” They want the Task Force to explore the full gamut of research on homelessness, sociological, psychological, theological, biblical, economic, etc., in order to suggest to the congregation how we might want to respond!!!! And no one sees how ridiculous this is! It’s not ridiculous to want to learn, certainly, but if history is a predictor, this Task Force will take 2 years to read books and talk to each other about homelessness instead of just being caring humans who meet, talk with, develop relationships with, and DO SOMETHING with and on behalf of unhoused PEOPLE.

    I have started visiting other churches and although I know that each congregation has its own failings and difficulties (no perfect church), I am finding places where the Spirit is alive and kicking, and where the people GET IT. Similarly, I am finding like-minded others outside of my denomination, and we may just band together to do what our respective churches can’t seem to bring themselves to do.

    Just a few thoughts.

  10. Donna Pierce Says:

    “A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.”

    Source: Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

  11. Susanne Kromberg Says:

    Allison,
    Firstly, I am sad to hear of your loneliness and the frustration that it is so hard to get care for the marginalized to the center. As you will know from reading my blog and from responses I get, there are times when many of us out here feel lonely and frustrated, too, and so I hope you do know that you aren’t alone.

    But that is small comfort indeed to someone who hungers for true faith community and deeper community commitment to serving the marginalized.

    I have so many responses, Allison, at so many different levels. One response is that obviously your Meeting needs you and your perspective, so there’s part of me that wants to say STAY, STAY, STAY right where you are. SPEAK, SPEAK, SPEAK right where you are! That is at the level of concern for your faith community and its mission.

    Another response is concern for YOUR soul’s nurture. I think it is rare indeed that any one of us is called to be miserable for the sake of the community. We may be called to make sacrifices – but when that is the case, I believe it won’t make us miserable but be accompanied by a sense of inevitability and “right order” and that we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t make the sacrifice.

    I believe there is a place for you where your gifts match the needs of the community. It’s not a perfect place – there is no perfect human institution – but it will be a place where you feel a sense of deep fullfilment in the knowledge that you are in the precise place where God wants you to be.

    Where is that community, how do you find it? I never know the answer to that question for another person. All I know is that the question has more aspects to it than denominational or geographic location. The answer may not lie in the actual community, but with time. Perhaps there isn’t a “right place” now, but that something needs to come into being before the “right place” can exist. That “something” could be a change within your current Meeting, or within another church, or even within yourself! Or some combination of all of the above?

    Unfortunately I have no general answer except the promise that there is a “right place” for you. What I do have is dozens of queries and questions I would want to ask that might help the answer to begin to emerge within yourself.

    I’d rather have that conversation out of the public sphere, though. If you’d like us to do some discerning together, you can go to the Good News Associates webpage to find my contact information. I would love to hear from you.

  12. Dinosaurs, sheeps and Unitarians, oh my! (Links) – The Quaker Ranter Says:

    […] Susanne K on the centrality of serving the marginalized A faith community that does not evoke the sense of God’s abundance is not doing its job. A church/Meeting that doesn’t put care for the marginalized at the center is “letting its sheep stray”. Like Fox, I can tap into a whole lot of anger on this (tags: quaker quaker.vision quaker.alienation comment) […]

  13. A faith community that does not evoke the sense of God’s abundance is not doing its job. A church/Meeting that doesn’t put care for the marginalized at the center is “letting its sheep stray”. Like Fox, I can tap into a whole lot of an Says:

    […] of anger on this Dec 17th, 2007 by Martin Kelley. // nRelate.domain = "www.quakerranter.org"; //Susanne K on the centrality of serving the marginalized /**/ Share this:EmailFacebookPosted in: Tumbled. ← The Christmas songs were creating a […]


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