It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.
Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.
By Ruth Wilkinson
I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.
It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.
It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.
Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.
I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.
But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.
So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.
They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.
But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”
I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.
One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.
Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”
They’re wrong. Completely wrong.
Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”
Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.
The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”
That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.
And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.
Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”
As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.
I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.
After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:
I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.
But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.
All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.
And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.
I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.
Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?
(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)
There might be a few things at play in their response.
First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.
Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.
Which is all another post for another blog.
But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.
McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.
He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.
Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.
To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.
Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.
Which might be just as well.
To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.
Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.
Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.
There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events.
Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.
It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.