Reflecting on Church after Gmunden

I grew up in a broad community that adhered to a set of values and beliefs, and though my neighborhood was at the edge of the city, limited in many ways (economically and politically), we transcended our boundaries of space and time. Early on in my life I traveled all over the country, meeting new people, making friends, going to Christian camps and not just being safe growing up, but thriving. 

I learned to define my voice even when I was mostly silent in public. I think I defined clearly my belief and that was the strongest foundation for who I am today. 

Since I was 14, I developed a relationship with the church that eventually became my home in California. One would say I never sought purposefully a new church, or a new community. They happened to me, they overlapped. I just entered the lane that was laid before me.

I thrived in my new home church upon my move to a new continent, in a new land, with a new status of daughter-in-law and wife. 

It’s not a small gift to feel free to express yourself, to be, to shine socially, spiritually, intellectually. My new home brought out the best in me.

But as with all good stories, there are challenges to overcome, growth to embrace, pain to endure and new beauty to shine. 

When we moved to romania as fully formed adults, of course we came back to a church where we had friends, where we got married. 

But while the message in the music was rich and moving, the teaching was difficult to process. It was food I had a hard time swallowing. After a decade of developing a taste for Bible literacy, Sunday sermons felt long, confusing and often times harmful in ways of legalism and inaccuracy. Half the church does not have a voice. The message felt mostly accusatory and I could not imagine bringing anyone to listen to the monotonous preaching. I stayed for the friends, the work we did together. The Tuesday Bible study and the vulnerability that shined in the youth group. 

My husband didn’t get anything out of it. He couldn’t understand much due to the language barrier but saw me frustrated with the message and he was outraged a few times about how we graciously put up with it, despite  our completely different view.

One might argue that questionable  impromptu sermons are isolated events. But in my old church everyone is allowed to get up and say a word, (men, that is) so chances for mishaps are high. 

I heard a quote that “one remembers not what you said but how you made them feel”. But God blessed with such a memory that I remember both. 

We sometimes skipped church because it was an endurance test. And after a long week. When Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest, even my mom would call it an offering, a sacrifice we make. Church is not the place where you go regularly to be scolded and feel bad about yourself. It is a place where the Spirit convicts you if you have gone off trail but it is also a place of joy and worship and fellowship. The house of the Lord, one longs to spend time in.

A set of circumstances made me decide with eyes wide open that we will not attend that church anymore. And for a year we were churchless. As it slowly got out of our system, we start to miss it. And maybe idealize it. But because we objectively decided we won’t go, we stayed put, praying for clarity. Stayed put in the desert to feel all its furry and heat and loneliness. It’s so tempting to settle for less.

I missed my friends. It is such an easy way to maintain certain friendships without much effort. You just show up every Sunday same place same time. You worship together, catch up at the end, but having so much history together, it feels good. It didn’t feel superficial in that sense, even though I think it was, and the routine didn’t shake us out of our lane, not too much on Sunday. We consumed what others served. We had judgmental thoughts about the nonsense some of the old generation would say but had no room to challenge and then we all went home. 

Anyway, the year we didn’t go to any church we got busy with the adoption and nobody questioned our prolonged absence. Let’s say it was that. But then a few months into parenting I realized we can’t stay home forever. So we went to a few churches, where my brother goes, where a friend invited me to a moms group. And there I felt like home. So we keep going. The teaching was hardy, the spirit was lively yet subtle, the worship familiar. 

It is then when we started receiving feedback about our perceived betrayal. But we had left the old church a year prior. 

I guess a breakup doesn’t feel final until you start seeing someone else. 

To close friends I explained our journey and decision making process. I miss a handful of people I saw regularly there. They are amazing human beings, who love god and who follow Him in the context of their life even as they keep attending the old church. They have developed a resistance to nonsense that I just can’t. More power to them. Or maybe they are so enmeshed because of tradition and parents and siblings all attending the same church. 

My easy ticket  out was my foreign husband who also needs to feed spiritually and grow and lead. For him our move was imperative. I didn’t even see it that clearly then. 

But today we attend a church that invests in Bible literacy, where our kids thrive, where there are many couples in the same life stage. People who are beautifully brave, faithful, interesting, humble, with servent hearts and it feels comfortable to come alongside and be ourselves and serve and have a platform to share about adoption too. 

Yet this summer as we hiked the Alps with our old group of friends, going back decades, I realize history is not easily replaced. I miss my old friends, and sharing life with them. Though we live in the same city, we have to make a great deal of effort to come together in our busy lives, and even with my brother and his family, just because we don’t attend same church. We have too many friends spread all over. Keeping up with all feels now more daunting and like a burden than a blessing. The extremes are not ideal. Feeling pulled in all directions or feeling like you have no friends. 

On this side of heaven we will always experience, in the same breath, being homesick and feeling called far away to new horizons. Heimweh & Fernweh 

We have a church we love to attend on Sunday. We have a Bible study with the pastor from the church in America. We have family that we make time for despite church affiliation. We have old friends whose friendships transcend time and space and church. 

We are trying to be good friends to others, good neighbors and this state we find ourselves in, aware that we are never fully at home in any one place, we are not confined to a closed circle, that we don’t belong completely to a group, a church, a denomination, this has opened our eyes and hearts to incredible new friendships, with international friends especially this year. Our home is open to serve and bless and we try not to create unnatural boundaries for our confort, but allow our eyes to see beyond and be open to others. 

Maybe, just maybe, we are exactly where we’re  supposed to be. In the liminal space.