Last month, Sen. Barack Obama wrote his pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, and announced that he and his wife, Michelle, were quitting Trinity United Church of Christ.
I have an inkling of what Moss and Obama might be feeling. I’ve been both a parish pastor and a congregant. As a congregant, I’ve struggled with staying in one place, and as a pastor I heard more than one congregant threaten to quit.
One man promised me he’d quit if I followed through with my plans to replace the chapel organ with an electronic keyboard. Never mind that the organ wasn’t really an organ at all. Without pipes, it was an outdated electronic keyboard.
Another congregant, a retired pastor, threatened to quit if I dared to distribute communion juice and wafers simultaneously. He said it was difficult to juggle both trays.
I once threatened to quit a church. When Texas legislators made it legal to carry concealed weapons, I jokingly warned my pastor I’d quit coming if he came packing. The aforementioned parishioners weren’t joking. They quit.
The decision to quit a faith community is a question often addressed for people struggling in their faith walk.
I was once asked by a nurse to visit a couple facing the pending loss of their premature twins. When I entered the room, the patient and her husband announced their certainty that God would save their children.
The next day, after both twins died, the nurse called me to tell me that the couple had been getting visits all day from church members bringing books, food and unwanted advice.
The couple would have none of it, and they summarily dismissed each one of the members. So, it came as a surprise to me that the nurse would think I’d be any more welcome than were the church members. Nevertheless, I entered the room.
In the room I found a couple who simply wanted to express to God how they felt. They made several statements about how much they’d given their lives in service to God. Now, they believed, God had failed to come through for them. They sincerely believed they’d been shortchanged by God. Now they swore they’d never go back to church again.
I stayed for 45 minutes and was invited back for additional visits in the following days. At the time of discharge, both parents told me I had been the only one who seemed willing to sit still and listen to their gripes about God. They thanked me for not trying to change their minds or judge them.
Because chaplaincy is such a fluid thing, I can’t tell you if they returned to their previous church, but I feel certain they never stopped talking to God and would likely rejoin God’s people.
In the end, keeping the conversation going with God is the most important thing, because as long as we talk to God, our reconciliation with the people of God will never be far behind.
My prayer for you is that even when you have a disagreement with the people of God, you will always keep talking to God. I pray that your life will never become like the old joke of the building contractor marooned on a deserted island for five years.
When finally discovered by rescuers, they noted three buildings. They asked the man to tell them why he’d constructed three buildings for only one man.
“The one on the west side is my home,” he proudly announced. “The building on the north side is my brand new church.”
“What about the crumbling old building on the south side?”
“Humph,” he said folding his arms and looking away. “That’s the other church. We don’t talk about them.”