I am on sabbatical this year. One of my goals is to finish a book (and the proposal for it should be in the mail to a publisher within a week). Another goal is more elusive and ecclesial. It involves making space and time to be present to the abiding questions I have about how to invest time in a local church, and how much also to connect more regionally as a theologian available for assistance in Lutheran congregations.
The local church question plagues me more. Each of us has our own histories with one or more parishes or congregations, experiencing something along a spectrum between satisfaction and struggle. I would very much welcome hearing stories or insights from others about how you’ve wrestled or reconciled with your own struggles participating in a local parish.
When we are disatisfied or troubled by something in any community (church or otherwise), it can be hard to know how much of that feeling is a Spirit-led drive to bring forth something new or to challenge something that is not right, and how much of that feeling is a sign we’ve got something to address within ourselves. Maybe the call to repentance and the call to be prophetic are always intertwined.
What feels right to me at this juncture is to identify how I respond to the dynamics in my own church (from which I am largely taking a sabbatical this year, not teaching adult ed and spending weekends in another town, where my partner has a job in a church band and I am visiting various congregations to listen and discern and talk with folks outside my normal orbits). I’m paying attention to what angers me, what makes me feel slighted or dismissed or invisible, and asking what can and cannot change–about a leader in the church, or about the congregation as a whole. It seems right just now to be sitting and being with how I’m feeling, before problem solving, before gaining clarity (if such comes) on how to invest my energies.
Being silent and causing no trouble does not feel right (however encouraged among women in particular), but the Benedictine emphasis on discerning direction together with others is important to remember as well.
The challenge is to discern how to be compassionate, not compliant.
I am sure others have much wisdom to share about this.