CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
Helen is joining the church this morning. Actually, she joined up a long time ago. She is just transferring her membership from Trinity UMC in Iron Mountain, MI to St. Mark’s UMC in Bloomington, IN. I’ll stand up with her, but since I am clergy, although retired, my membership is in the Conference, the regional connection of all the UMCs in a geographical area, rather than in a local congregation.
Before Iron Mountain, Helen was a member of United Methodist congregations in Sterling, IL, Mason City, IA, Charleston, IL, Arcola, IL, Hoopeston, IL, Orion, IL, Iowa City, IA, Normal, IL, Terre Haute, IN, Cedar Lake, IN, Dallas, TX, Solsberry, IN, and a Presbyterian church in Gary, IN and a Baptist church in Monon, IN. Every one of them disappointed her.
Not terribly. Not especially. But every church disappoints. Not a one lives up to the promise you hold for it. Sometimes Christians don’t act like Christians, and we think they should, at least in the church. Sometimes, though, they act less Christianly, toward their own Christian sisters and brothers, and pastors, than they do to the outside world.
That is true with every relationship. Parents disappoint children when the kids learn that their parents are not infallible and all-powerful. Children disappoint parents when they grow up and use their own minds. Spouses disappoint each other because they are not perfect. Everyone disappoints everyone else because we get sick and die and leave one another.
So it is best to decide at the time you join the church, or any other relationship, whether you are going to hang in there when the disappointment comes, or whether you’re going to bail out and seek a different, later disappointment.
I’m not sure that bailing out is always the wrong choice. But I am sure that when we join together in relationship, we need to keep loving all the way through, even when the inevitable disappointment comes, even though we can no longer be together in the same ways in which we started.
St. Mark’s has two terrific pastors, and a big bunch of interesting, loving, Christian members. Those pastors, though, are not perfect, and they will retire or be moved to another church. Those Christian members will take jobs in other places or get sick and die. I’m already mad at them for that, but I’m going to love them while I have the chance, before the disappointment comes, and when it comes--by God’s grace, and because Helen is a member and makes me keep going--I’ll love them still.
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