Saturday, November 20, 2010

Falling off the church

During a campus ministry-sponsored supper last Sunday, one of our young adults (who is bilingual) was asked if he'd attended an Episcopal church in Chicago, where he grew up. (Side note: The young adult and I grew up on the same street on the south side of Chicago, which I find absolutely remarkable.)

He replied that no, he'd grown up Catholic, but that he'd "fallen off the church." We knew that this really meant that he'd fallen away from church, but I'm still thinking about his words. Various images of a person literally falling from the roof come to mind (likely because we've completed a major construction project that had many people up on the church roof), but I also consider the phrase to describe part of my past week.

Three critical situations with families called me away from church: one visit to the county jail, followed by about 24 hours being present or on-call for two hospitalizations. One of these involved 8 hours of preparations for and heart surgery on an infant; the other was an unexpected emergency admission that remains serious. By the time I returned to church the next day at noon, I was just in time for a meeting, followed by discussion out in the hallway.

The problem here was that I felt as though I'd "fallen off the church." Shifting from critical, intense and chaotic to "ordinary and expected" mode left me with little patience for the ways in which members of a church can neglect to speak of (or to) one another with respect or graciousness. At the hospital, I'd witnessed graciousness and hospitality over and over, and it seemed ironic that I didn't find it in church. There's no surprise here; parish life can and does bring out the best and worst in people's reactions to one another. But the image of falling off the church still describes how it felt to encounter behavior I wish I hadn't witnessed. (If you're still reading: yes, I responded to the behavior. And yes, by the grace of God, I have regained patience.)