Next week will officially mark four months since I’ve gotten myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend a church service.
I’ve kept myself otherwise occupied.
I played card games with Bryce and our roommate. I visited my mother and helped her with yard work. I watched a lot of TV and read a few books. I spent Mother’s and Father’s Day with my future in-laws. I added to our wedding registry. I fasted from social media.
I slept in.
But I haven’t been with a traditional community of believers.
I have become what I once feared: a non-church attending Christian.
The congregation members I grew up with attached a lot of adjectives to people like me: lukewarm, backsliding, and hedonistic are probably some of the nicer ones.
You can’t be a Christian without a faith community, they insist. If you’re not part of a gathering of believers, you will follow a God in your own image and become idolatrous, they warn. Why must you be one of those pesky Burger King Christians who has to have everything their way, they fuss.
But guess what?
I’m well-rested, emotionally stable (to an extent), and still in love with the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Trinity.
This being said, I still struggle to read the Bible. I find following Jesus into the difficult places harder than ever. I find God to be more mysterious than I could have imagined. And I am more annoyed by the Spirit’s non-stop calls to lay everything down and open myself up to love.
I still talk about theology and what it means to follow Jesus, although I’m even less reverent than I’ve ever been. I partake in communion, but I break the bread of gigantic slices of Manhattan Pizza with my co-workers and gluten-free, vegan rolls with racial justice co-conspirators. I pray more than I have in some time: for peace, for my loved ones to get through their days, for mercy and justice, and for people to just listen. I look for God’s presence everywhere and in everything, in the breaths I take during a run, in my fiance doing the laundry for me, in protesters as cops beat them, and in writers who share their stories and trust they will mean something to someone.
I know there will be people who will read every single thing I’ve just said and see it all as lies and heresies, more evidence of my backsliding ways.
But in reality, I feel more solid in my faith and more confident claiming a Christian identity than I have in a long time.
It could be because I’m living with my fiance and not afraid of anyone’s nosy judgment, or because I’m politically and socially engaged with no fear that a theological higher-up is breathing down my neck, waiting for me to make a theological mishap and tear me down. Maybe it’s because I have more freedom to actually ask a variety of people a lot of interesting, difficult, uncomfortable questions without having the authenticity of my faith put on trial.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting more sleep.
I’m not saying I will never attend a traditional church again. By no means. In fact, I can no longer pass an Episcopal church without feeling a tremendous pang in my heart and an intense longing for choir anthems and collects.
I also have to admit there are some drawbacks to not having a faith community right now. I miss the communal life of choir practices and youth Sunday School. I miss long, deep conversations with clergy. I miss coffee hours after Sunday service and lunch time gatherings around the seminary table.
But I can’t say my lack of a “real” faith community is completely awful either. And I definitely can’t say I will regret this time in my life, or that I feel like a failure and a backslider in my walk with Christ.
For once in my life, I feel OK with where my faith journey has taken and is taking me, even if it’s the non-traditional route.
And I’m going to soak that up for all it’s worth.