by Krista Showalter Ehst, Alpha
I recently attended my first high school reunion as a Mennonite pastor. I am a relatively young pastor, and I think for some of my fellow alumni it was a bit strange to hear about my current career path. I was chatting with two folks (not even discussing church or pastoring at the moment) when one suddenly turned to the other and said, “Are you religious?” They proceeded into a lengthy conversation about the various reasons for—but mostly against—attending church or embracing Christianity. I sat there quietly, absorbing it all and finding myself wondering, “How is it that I ended up on such a different path? Why am I not only in a church but leading one when so many of my peers have given up on church?”
In many ways, it’s easy to imagine myself in the shoes of one of those peers, to come up with a list of reasons for not being part of the church. Many churches are dwindling, and it’s sometimes hard to tell how a church serves people any better than a social club or community center. Even where churches are thriving, they have this persnickety way of wounding people rather than extending a healing touch. Churches have messed up many times and in many ways throughout the years, and it is understandable that some people need to simply walk away.
But I find myself firmly rooted in the church, even choosing a vocation of church leadership, and I wonder just what it is that has brought me to this place. I have certainly not been blind to the ways that church has wounded people, the ways that it is been complicit in injustice. I’ve seen up close and from afar the brokenness and failings of churches.
And yet right alongside the failures and brokenness are these persistent moments of grace and transformation. I’m only six months into my first pastoral experience, and yet I’ve already been privileged to witness many small-but-amazing moments when churchgoers—who in any other setting would likely not be a part of the same social group—extend abundant care to one another or share vulnerably with each other. I’ve seen the ways our small congregation works to give generously to folks in need even while feeling the pressures of a limited budget. I’ve seen high schoolers greeting and hugging an 80-plus-year-old member, and young children running up to ask one of the middle aged members to play with them. These kinds of interactions, these forms of care and intergenerational relationships, they’re kind of rare. They’re certainly not commonplace in our culture. These are the kinds of moments I wanted to tell my fellow alumni about as they speculated about the pros and cons of “being religious.”
And yet at the end of the day it doesn’t come down to looking at a list of pros and cons and deciding which outweighs the other. The failures persist even while grace abounds. Transformation occurs even while brokenness persists. It is one of the most wonderful and most irritating parts of our faith journey. We experience true tastes of God’s love and grace, and yet we continue to experience and confront the places where God’s kin-dom has not yet become reality.
It is, in fact, both the places of “now” and “not yet” that keep me in the church. The “nows,” the times when I see someone receiving healing through their church family or when I myself experience transformation through the community of faith, inspire and energize me. And the “not yets,” the painful moments of witnessing exclusion or becoming entrenched in church conflict—these moments push me to keep struggling, to keep praying, and to keep working on behalf of God’s kin-dom.
I’m not sure if any of this would make sense to my high school classmates. “Why bother wasting all that energy?” they might ask. “Why wait around if the church is still bogged down by all that negative stuff?”
“Well,” I might say, “Come and see.” Because it is only in experiencing small-yet-profound tastes of a kin-dom where God’s love abounds and all find wholeness that we can muster the patience to wait for that kin-dom to be realized in full.
Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.” Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.