Sunday, November 8, 2015

Imagine There's No Pastor

We returned to church today after a few months' absence. It was a good day for a do-over. We got to see what it's like without a pastor. We didn't have a guest pastor or anything. No sermon. Several people got up and talked about what Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church means to them. We sang hymns. We prayed together. It was nice.

I'm a little surprised that I decided to return. I've sworn off religion more often than not during my life. And, still, it's not religion I seek. I seek community. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. Family.

Like a kid worried about the breakup of her family after Mom kicks Dad out of the house, I wasn't sure how a church with no pastor would work. Especially when I thought I was on Dad's side...uh, I mean the pastor's side.

See, the pastor and my church broke up recently, and the experience made me feel like a kid torn between Mom and Dad. I dealt with the breakup like a runaway adolescent. I got the hell out of there. I focused my thoughts and attention on myself and what I needed, which apparently was a lot of sleeping til noon and ignoring my email and voicemail, choosing only to communicate with the pastor and the church members via social media.

After a bit of introspection and discussing it with my nine-year-old daughter Katie, the Bonnie to my Clyde in all things spiritual, we decided we enjoy the feeling of community more than we enjoy slacking around the house on Sunday mornings. We missed our church friends. We were ready to try again.

We felt right at home. Which is weird, because I didn't think we would. I anticipated awkwardness. I mean, our church has literally no pastor. We even lost our associate pastor during the time I was avoiding everyone. She got a full-time gig out south, which was a decision she'd made long before it was revealed that our church and our head pastor were going separate ways. The congregation is literally on its own.

What would a pastorless church look like?

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

That's Jonas Hayes, the former pastor of my church, up there in the video clip, quoting Fitzgerald. That's his last sermon at the church. That's him, Pastor Jonas, having the audacity to sing a John Lennon song about a harmonious world with no religion to a congregation of self-declared Christians who elected to offer him a severance package, a pat on the back, and a "thank you" as he saw himself out the door.

What pissed me off the most about the breakup of my church and our pastor is that I had no idea there was a problem until it was too late to voice my opinion. We were informed that Pastor Jonas was leaving the church, and there was nothing I could do about it. I hate it when there's nothing I can do about something. I'm a teeny tiny bit of a control freak. I hate it when things don't go the way I want them to go.

I felt like I had no control over a big part of my life. I already have trust issues with many religious people. Pastor Jonas was the only person I ever trusted enough to baptize me. Wouldn't it be disloyal of me to continue to go back to the church he was asked to leave?

So, why did I return?

I don't know. There's no rational reason. Which makes perfect sense. Church is not the place I turn to when I need my rational needs met. Church is where I turn to when I need my emotional needs met. And right now, at this point in my life, I need to feel like I'm part of something bigger than me. I need my church family.

I had coffee with my friend Sarah this week. I think that's what did it. Sarah's just such a nice person. She's a charter member of Grace Covenant. She's the one who invited us to this church two years ago in the first place. My step-father had just died. His religious funeral both scared and intrigued our then seven-year-old, Katie. While discussing how she felt, Katie asked if we could go to a church. I said, "Sure, why not." It's a thing in our family.We like to keep an open mind and give all kinds of things a try.

Never in a million years would you have convinced me that I would not only join the church, but become a Sunday School teacher. Never in a million years would you have convinced me that I would allow someone to say a prayer and sprinkle water on my head in some holy rite. But I did. All of that. I fell in love with Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I felt like I belonged.

I'm a lousy religious adherent. Getting me to go to church takes an act of God. Not only am I not a morning person, I don't wear pantyhose. I believe the stories in the Bible are metaphors, not the word of God. I think many religious leaders over the years have let the power go to their head and it's fucked up their idea of what it means to be a good person. I don't think people need religion to act morally.

And yet, I feel drawn to this particular community of churchgoers. Mainly, because they're cool with questioning. They're cool with people like me who aren't quite sure what's going on or why we're all here or any of the mysterious meaning of life kind of stuff, but who enjoy the company along the ride.

I might not ever know the reasons why things went sour between Pastor Jonas and our church, but everyone tells me it was a mutual agreement. I don't know. I'm going to take Pastor Jonas' advice from the video clip above. I'm going to hold these opposing ideas in my mind and try to work through it. I've found at this point in my life, I function best in a community of imperfect people who understand when I need time away and yet whose doors are always open when I'm ready to return.