For our family, this entire past year has felt a bit like the season of Lent. Leaving a church is devastating, and the gradual awareness that came upon all seven of us was not one we wished for, and in fact was a dawning we had been pushing away for considerably longer. Our church had been our home in every way for so long, and sometimes it isn't "them" that needs to change, it is "you".
Painful...heartbreaking...aching...doubting...acceptance...surrender...all are words I would use to describe this past year for us.
And yet, Easter always arrives for believers. For some it is the actual resurrection, for some it is a metaphorical one, but either way, new life is always just around the corner waiting for you to grasp it.
Tomorrow morning, for the first Easter Sunday in 15 years, we will be attending services elsewhere. As promised to the faithful, God has not wandered away, leaving us broken and alone, but instead has led us to a new land, a new life, a new beginning.
How blessed we are! How happy we are! How at home we are!
This "Year of Lent" has been incredibly important for our family. I was initially fearful that this process would find us distanced from God as we struggled through the unknowns, but instead, it has drawn all of us far closer, and helped us clarify what really and truly matters to us all. Though the kids all went through a confirmation process last year, it was interesting to see how this experience was their true "Confirmation". At a critical time in their lives, when many their age walk away from church attendance, they were given full say in what our family's faith future looked like. You see, they had to choose to remain church goers, they had to think deeply about what aspects of worship and community worked for them, and had to discern where their personal lines were drawn for their theology.
It was them claiming their faith in an entirely new, and more mature way.
We started moving in one direction, and ended up in an entirely different direction. We are so thankful for our healing time at the first church we attended, a Disciples of Christ congregation that welcomed us, invited us in, and gave us a place to rest when it was most needed as we came to final conclusions. They are a lovely strong group and we enjoyed getting to know them. Ultimately though, it was not to be our church home, as we slowly began to understand more of what we needed and dreamed of.
One bright Sunday morning after the new year, we walked through the door of an ELCA Lutheran church in Grand Junction, an hour away from home. It was only our second church to visit, and yet something happened there that very first day...Angela looked at me in the car and immediately said, "We found it Mom, didn't we? This is it." and everyone echoed the sentiment that we all were almost too scared to admit...could we have actually found our place so smoothly?
Yes, we did. Not out of desperation, but out of Spirit leading. Every week, we were hit with another 2 x 4 that made it obvious beyond all doubt that we were indeed in the right place, that we had found a place where all seven of us would feel met, challenged, and nurtured in our faith.
We have attended every Sunday since, and are slowly making new friendships and becoming invested in a new congregation. The hard part, for me, and I think for many, is that your "story" is not known. When you have traveled through life for a considerable period of time with others, there is little they don't know, and things don't have to be explained. Starting over for an introvert like me means learning the stories of others, but more painfully, having to share our story, too. Ours is a complicated tale, not easily summarized...but then, no one's is, really, is it?
Singing from a new hymnal in a different pew tomorrow as we celebrate the Christian message of new life, I will surely have fond remembrances of Easters past, and perhaps shed a tear or two as I recall those I love who are no longer worshiping by my side.
A new song is being written, however, in our attendance tomorrow, in the peace we pass, and in the prayers we offer. This song is the next in our personal faith hymnal, one that doesn't shed the old favorite songs, but instead adds new pages to the collection. I will turn to new faces with gratitude for the acceptance and warmth we have received, I will turn to the Spirit as I give thanks for new life over and over again, and I will turn to my family and honor the choices we have made that have been as faithful as they could be.
Our "Year of Lent" has thankfully ended, and next Sunday, when we make it official and are received in membership with this congregation, we being a new adventure in Christ and wander no more.