Do people ask you why you have stayed at your church? I have fumbled through this answer before, but I’ve never told the whole story. I’ve talked about the love and emotional strength I borrowed from all of you during my divorce. I’ve described the long, unwavering, practical support you brought when I broke my ankle. I’ve reflected on the long hard slog of my dissertation and the encouragement I received when things were not going well. You put up with a lot of whining over that one.
But now Hickory Bend is in a real trial. We are soul searching to find out what kind of church we really are.
We live in a broken and fallen world, and that brokenness is evident in the Church. In fact in our own church. In fact in me. As Brother Gary has remarked, “People want to know why we can’t be like the early church, but that is the problem. We are like the early church.” So, if the early Christians were like me. If they were petty, hurtful, neglectful, destructive, mean, and lazy — like me — then how did the Church survive? How is it that we still have the Church over 2000 years later? How will Hickory Bend survive the likes of me?
Think about this quote:
“Good is the relentless search for loving solutions to our problems.”
Moni Castaneda, Knoxville, TN
Here are my reasons for sticking to Hickory Bend.
- I believe that we must worship in a community of faith. Brother Bob Lewis made this point emphatically, and he is ever so right. Christianity works on the buddy system. We have to do this together. Faith is a field trip where you hold your friend’s hand, even when he or she is hurt and angry. Especially when you’re hurt and angry.
- I know that if I want the world to be better, I have to be better. I have to care about the problems in our own country, our own city, my own church, and my own pew. My own seat.
- Reconciliation begins at home. I need to ask forgiveness for the sins I commit at home, at work, and at church. And I am doing so now. I have been self absorbed and lazy. I apologize for that, and I hope you will forgive me. I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by small problems and I have neglected big problems. I am deeply sorry for that.
- I know that the world is full of broken and wounded people, and I don’t expect the church to be any different. I am one of the walking wounded myself. I seek and find great comfort in the church, and I want to offer that to everyone else who, like me, has been battered about by the time and tides.
- I believe that the church is bigger than our politics and our personalities. Even mine. Especially mine.
- I believe the Grace of God passes my own understanding, and that His Grace penetrates problems much greater than ours. His Grace is sufficient for us at Hickory Bend UMC. It has been for years, and it will be again.
- I believe we all have a duty to speak about the problems we see in our church, although we will not always agree on the solutions. As long as the solutions are loving, we must all unite in love and commit ourselves to their success.
- I believe that the church has survived for over 2000 years in spite of people like me, and it will continue to survive. Hickory Bend will be restored to its true self.
- People in other parts of the world do not enjoy the freedom to worship that I too often take for granted. Before I give up the church I love, I must remember that many of our ancestors moved across the world, and even suffered and died for the freedom to worship and the opportunity to spread the Good News. Out of gratitude for their sacrifices, and to honor those who have gone before us, Hickory Bend must be about extravagant generosity to those in need, and sharing the Gospel with every soul who finds us.
- I need the church to remind me of my own weakness and my shortcomings. Left to my own devices, I can ignore the parts of the Bible that make me uncomfortable. Living in a community of faith, I am held accountable.
- Lastly, I realize that my leaving, even mine, with all of my flaws, would affect the entire congregation, just as anyone’s departure leaves a hole that can never be filled by anyone else. Think of those whose faces we miss each time we gather. Their legacy lives on with us, but we never truly replace them. The loss is permanent.
- by Edwin Markham
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!