I went to church today. This is a cautious, once burned twice shy, definite-maybe sort of return. But I really am trying. The thing is, this return is emotionally and spiritually difficult. Today is the first Sunday of the academic year, and therefore time to fill out the annual Time and Talent cards. How will I interact with the various ministries of the church as we try to live out our mission in the world? I couldn’t fill it out. I stared at that yellow card and discovered that I’m not quite as “back” as I thought I was.
As our parish is assigned more and more conservative priests, more and more conservative people start coming to the church. Where were they before? I have NO idea. Were they the ones having little home liturgies, praying for a return to the church they know and love? And the liberals start to be squeezed out -out of staff positions, out of leadership positions, just plain out of the pews. So, people like me are at church in dwindling numbers and with a correspondingly dwindling voice, as well. Can I be in community with these people? I just don’t know yet.
My young-adult children have chosen not to go to church, now that it's their decision to make. At first, that really hurt me. It felt like I'd failed somehow. (Of course, it's all about ME!!!! Sigh....) What I mean is, I wasn't worried about their eternal salvation or anything. I just felt kind of surprised that they were making the same decision for the same (essentially sophomoric) reasons that many young people choose not to go to church. On the other hand, the Catholic Church is a hard sell, even on a good day. A person has to work pretty hard to understand that the stuff that seems strange or even silly, can make sense when you understand the rationale and the principles and the history....
On the other other hand (hey, it's early), sometimes the silly stuff IS just plain silly. The more I listen to my kids and their reasons for not going to church, the more they make sense to me. It is absurd that institutionally we valued priestly power and privacy over children's safety. The new repetitions of the policies re: homosexuality aren't just silly; they're frightening. Exactly why aren't we ordaining women, for crying out loud?
Sometimes when we stay in the circle, we unconsciously start to mimic the language of the people striving to protect their own power. "Gradual, thoughtful change is the way of the church. We have to move carefully. The church has a long history; we'll get around to the changes you seek." Well, God bless the people who step outside the circle and point out the possibility that some of this stuff is just wrong.
When Henri Nouwen talked about the "ministry of absence" he meant more like the dark night of the soul -but maybe we could poetically borrow his phrase and see if there's some use to this migration of people away from the church.
But in the meantime, I’m trying to come back. I just can’t fill out this darn Time and Talent card yet.