It’s Sunday. Confession time.
I have a confession to make: I haven’t been to church on a Sunday since my sabbatical began on July 10.
“And you, a pastor!” I hear you.
On the first Sunday I was in the airport waiting for a flight. And for the other Sundays? I have no excuses.
Instead, I did what probably most of you did on this fine summer’s day. I stayed home.
It was a beautiful morning. I took my coffee outside, sat down on the shaded deck and listened to the birds singing as I inhaled the scent of a fresh morning and wondered what the day might hold. After a while I got up and took a stroll around the garden checking in on the vegetables and spoke sternly to the birds fighting around the feeders: “Play nicely, children. There’s plenty for all of you.”
It really was lovely. The glory and wonder of creation was all there and I thanked God for the blessing of being able to experience it.
I started to read through the lessons for the day, but stopped.
Something was missing.
I missed going to church.
Being a pastor on sabbatical means that I’m meant to use this extended time to rest, refresh myself, and be restored so I can come back re-energized for the next stage in our joint ministry. The unwritten rule is that you find somewhere else to worship so the boundary is maintained.
During my last sabbatical, ten years ago, I made a point of worshipping in as many different churches as I could. High Church Anglican, Pentecostal, multi-centre Evangelical, I went to them all. Yet this time the idea of going to a different church every Sunday and experiencing “coffee hour” after worship filled me with dread. I couldn’t see any point unless it was information gathering. But that wasn’t what going to church is about.
I realized today that I didn’t want to observe worship as an experience. I wanted to worship. I didn’t want to be a passive observer looking on, I needed to be in community. In the community to which I belong where Inta is in charge of coffee hour, Guntis takes care of the rota for the communion assistants, and Davids plays the organ. The one for whom Sarma prepares the Sunday bulletins and Andris ensures the sanctuary and fellowship hall are welcoming to all who come. I didn’t want to feel like the solitary chickadee at my bird feeder. I wanted to be with those to whom I belong and worship God with them.
We moved in to share with another congregation a year and a half ago having sold our glorious heritage building that was now far too large for us, but just the right size for a burgeoning new church plant. Yes, there have been the inevitable tensions as our two congregations learned not only to share but to reassess the validity of seventy years of assumptions about one another. Yet we have begun to experience the new possibilities that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.We are beginning to see that we truly become one as we gather to worship. As we meet at the altar. That we, a motley crew, are united in and by the bread and the wine and transformed by the presence of Christ. That Jesus can be experienced as alive in, through, and among this community. The one to which I belong.
And that’s what I realized I was missing this Sunday. Not our old church home so much, but the community that is the real “home”. I recognized it doesn’t matter how good the sermon is, whatever that means; it doesn’t matter if someone always sings slightly off-key. That’s not relevant. When I’m in that community I’m not assessing, I’m participating. All that matters is that this is where I belong, a community whose members have questions, doubts and convictions, one where people have experienced the brush of God’s touch, or yearn to know it.
So when I’m next in town on a Sunday morning during my sabbatical, I will go and sit as one of the congregation and just let go so I can feel the Spirit moving among us. I will gather with the others to receive the sign of God’s endless love for us, of God’s becoming human like us, receive the bread, and take the cup. And I will know that Christ’s hands are outstretched towards all of us as he says: “come, my beloved, this is home. Rest, be refreshed, and feel yourself restored so you can live your life in joy.”
“Though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.” Romans 12:5
A recording of the remarkable contralto, Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) singing “O, rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”.
Please note: all opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are not to be seens as reflective of any one denomination or congregation.
© Ilze Kuplens-Ewart 2016