How did I get involved with those people in the first place? It was just a gesture to satisfy my soon-to-be in-laws, whom I admired and whose family I was so thrilled to be joining. Really, they were great . . . and having my wedding in a church seemed like a small concession. What did I care? It was just a building.
And then, in the process of choosing said wedding-vow church, I happened to be present during a service offered by the teenaged members of prospective wedding-vow church. This was during the Reagan administration, for cultural reference. Okay? Long, long time ago. Picture me at 34, watching a couple of dozen high-schoolers being their authentically irreverent, silly, hopeful, wicked selves in front what was a clearly respectful, familiar, and loving adult congregation.
I wanted that exact thing for my kids, if I was lucky enough to ever have any. I wanted a community that would be on their side, that would look at them with that expression of glad & knowing acceptance. I'd never seen such a thing in my life until that day.
I didn't even have to pretend to care about the bible, see; this was a liberal church. But I'm done with them . . . and I'm writing this to ask you one question. On the flip.
Here's the question: What kind of extended community can take the place of church? Get me -- my church felt like an okay place for a long, long time. Full of intelligence and humor and energy, which as it turned out was a reflection of certain leadership.
And when my family was almost destroyed by a medical catastrophe in 2001, the people in that community carried me and our kids through. I'm saying, they didn't just show up with lasagna for a couple of weeks . . . they showed up at the hospital and stayed all night, for months. They showed up to help us put in ramps and a roll-in shower. They showed up and spent a half a day seeing my husband to a physical therapy appointment, three times a week, for more than a year. There was never a time when I picked up the phone to ask one of them for some random favor and got "Sorry, I can't," as a response. Not once, and it took two years for him to be well enough to be safely left alone, and four years for him to be well enough to work again.
Our kids -- whom I had once imagined being loved so sweetly by that congregation -- were saved by them, in the ordinary and not the religious sense of the word.
And all of that is why it's taken me years to end my time there. The intelligence and humor and energy gave way, in the leadership, to a sort of self-satisfied status-quo maintenance model that bores me senseless. My friends are still my friends, whether I "belong" or not. So . . . I gotta move on.
But I want to know if any of you have managed to create a real and lasting community outside that model, because I'm going to miss it. I gave it the last five years, thinking I just needed to show up and make an effort. I volunteered to do governance and took on a bunch of tasks within that framework. I feel now like the voice in Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan." They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom for tryin' to change the system from within . . . I can't do it anymore. I spent the whole of last year sitting on committees whose goal was to rationalize a $3 million project to replace the pipe organ, for fuck's sake. As if 19th-century pipe organ concerts are the future of a soul-based, liberal city culture that already doesn't want anything to do with religion. I have to leave before I start to despise these people.
I'm looking for a way to build something real that's not church, but that's like church in the sense that it's there to gather people trying to make sense & joy & meaning out of what life dishes their way. Can it be done? What do you all do?
Starting over in a new church seems crazy; I never learned to care about the bible. I dream about starting a sort of un-church . . . a neighborhood-based community that's creative, accessible, and functional. I'm looking for models.