My church, our church, has been and still is a touch stone for Marty and me. It has been an integral part of our life for a long time and my hope is that it will always be a sanctuary for us.
It is a an ever present part of my memory, seeing my daughter sing, seeing my son lead, seeing them both preach Senior sermons, teaching Sunday School, watching Marty sing, sitting behind the youth of church and occasionally shushing their whispers. Our church, in spite of our, let’s call it spotty attendance of late, is foundational for Marty and for me.
I remember sitting in church one Sunday, as low in spirit as I could have been, I was sitting beside Marty; the night before we had talked about not being married anymore. Sitting in that church that day, my head, my heart was in turmoil, sitting with Marty on my right and my children in front of me with the night before still churning my gut I thought, I can’t ever be with anyone but this woman to my right.
Being in that church that day helped save our marriage. Months later Marty and I stood at the front of our church with Jimmie and repeated vows of love and re-commitment, in our church.
Years later I sat by Marty in that church on a rainy Christmas day. I sat as our pastor leaned down and wrapped his arms around Marty. I listened and was moved as they took turns delivering the charge to the small gathering, repeating the words, “have faith, hold on to what is good”, one after the other. I saw the smile of our God that day, smiling as the strong encircled the weak that day, in that church.
This church, the people in this church, this enclave in the city of Waco has been there for us during our best times and has been a shelter and a buttress against ill winds for us in our worst times. I worry for my church.
You see, we are Presbyterians and there has been upheaval in our denomination over the last several years, in particular regarding sexual orientation. We are a connectional church and all of us belong to the Presbyterian Church of the USA. We are governed by a Book of Order developed and changed by our General Assembly, a bi-annual meeting where delegates from all across the United States meet to recommend what belongs and what doesn’t belong in our Book of Order and our Book of Confessions.
In June of 2014 the GA voted to revise the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages where allowed by law. It has roiled our church and many congregations have voted to leave our denomination. It hurts to see, it hurts to watch, it feels like once again there are people saying to others, within my own denomination, you are no longer Christian enough for us.
I worry that this controversy, this almost secular battle of liberal versus conservative thought will visit my church. I worry that there will be people in my own church that will be so hurt, so angry over some of these decisions they will want to leave or worse they will want my church to divorce my denomination, they will want to take my church away.
I understand their concern; I understand the strong feelings that are involved. I don’t understand the need to separate, the need to look another in the eye and say I can no longer worship with you because I don’t agree with you. We worshiped together yesterday, we disagreed yesterday, why can’t we worship together tomorrow even though we disagree over some issues?
Years ago Marty and I sat in our church and contemplated moving away from each other. We had significant disagreements, we were at logger heads, we were, at times, emotionally hurting each other. That Sunday at that church we decided we must work through our pain and hurt and disagreements and stand strong for each other. That’s what we did.
I know that some in our church feel the same way I did that day in our church, not sure if love and faith can bridge the gap in our relationship. I recognize the very real concerns many have about some changes in our denomination. Those concerns are based in real faith, so are mine.
When those Commissioners at General Assembly met and voted on the issues hurting your heart I believe they were doing what they felt God led them to do. When those votes were taken it was not a matter of doing the will of the people but seeking discernment to do the will of God.
I accept that there are those who can’t accept, I can’t accept that leaving is the answer, I can’t accept that we must divorce. If you believe, then fight, then work, then change minds, change hearts, make a difference in a way that says I won’t give up but I too will seek God’s direction and I will make right what I see as wrong.
My sanctuary, more than any other place I have ever been, has always been a place where differences in race, circumstances and politics did not matter. My sanctuary has always been a place of refuge, a place that has fit me and my family as a soft glove, a place that is tender, accepting and inclusive.
Don’t take that away, Marty and I are blessed to have this church and all of the people that are a part of it. Stay and disagree with me, we can do that and still sing together.