I find myself once more at the computer screen attempting to make sense of the last few weeks. On Sunday our church will have it’s last service and the small community that we have been part of for 8 or so years will come to an end in it’s current form. Friendships will remain, no doubt they will change as we seek to become part of other churches, but they will remain in some form. Sadly though, as a family, a fellowship, we will be scattered across our city in other churches. Maybe some of us will end up together, maybe some of us won’t. I have no idea what will happen. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, from finding out the results of the review of the church, to the request that our Minister step down and look for another role, to the heartbreaking meeting when we realised there was no way we could realistically carry on with the small core we have.
It turns out there is no way to end a church well. There is no book that has been written on the subject, as far as I’m aware, and there certainly is no way to end a church well in 3-4 weeks. It’s a hard, messy, painful process. There is a constant need to bear with each other, to submit to each other, to forgive and to accept that nothing will really happen as you want it to happen. Life is like that, this process of closing up a church that has been going for 11 years is like that. It’s flipping hard.
For the last few weeks my emotions have been all over the place, the boys have suffered under my stress poured out in anger at them. I sense that after Sunday we all may get ill or just collapse in exhaustion. This is not easy. This is not fun. But this is sadly part of life right now. I want it to be pain free, but then if it was, I guess we’d not have been in deep community with each other.
I came to Christ Church off the back of working for UCCF, travelling around CU’s, showing up with the shiny side of me on view (well maybe not always) It was easy to love the role, to be the one doing ministry and hide the unkempt bits of me away at home (my housemates and team didn’t get off so lightly as my sin was always fairly hard to hide.) Anyway, the point was, I could flit in and out of students communities and liked the brief contact. Coming to Christ Church was a lesson in community I couldn’t escape from. I couldn’t avoid the tricky people at church, there was no-where to go, I couldn’t avoid hurting people, we were in such close contact. I had to learn to ask for forgiveness of others and accept it when given. I had to learn to bear with others, to not duck away from hard relationships. I had learn to live with the reality of my own sin. It was a beautiful church to be part of. Not perfect by any means, deeply irritating at times, frustrating in it’s own way but with a profound sense of what it means to be family together, to share each others lives together, to constantly eat together and value relationship highly.
The other night in our small group we listed all the people who had been in and out of Christ Church over the years and where they are now. It was a long long list. We couldn’t help thinking if most of them had stayed we’d be in a whole different place than we are now. It was, however, awesome to see the amount of people we had affected over the years, people who still feel part of the church even though they left 8 years ago and really were only with us for a few weeks. We have been family for each other and for all who have come through our doors.
Christ Church is the only church I have known as a wife and a mother. It is where I met the brilliant husbandface and realised that we fit together like a broken in shoe molds around your feet or a key fits a lock, it made no sense to spend the rest of our lives in any other way but together. It feels so scary to step out of what has been a wonderfully safe place for our marriage and parenting, knowing we have done both in community with others. The stripping away of the formal places of that community is hard. The reality is that our safe places will remain. We know where we can run to in troubled times. We know that new safe places will be forged. We trust that someone bigger than us is holding us right now.
The time has come for our church family to be fully scattered, still bound by the experiences we had together but moving onto new things. It’s a time of grief, of thankfulness, of pain, of sorrow, of anticipation. I wonder where we will end up, I wonder what kind of Christian we are now and therefore what church we will end up in. I wonder how our eldest will cope with the transition, he doesn’t want our church to stop, he wants to go where everyone else goes, he likes what we have. The unknown is scary. I have to remind myself to tell my own heart what I tell him, that God doesn’t change, that he has us in his hands, that there is a future for us and that not all change is bad.
Right now there is an insanely beautiful sunset over the downs out of my window. A sunset which calls me to trust in a reality I cannot see or taste or touch. A reality of a Maker, a cup, a cross, a grave and a sunrise one morning with an empty tomb and fish on the beach. A sunset which reminds me that there is more than this. That our lives are in the hands of someone much bigger than mine, who calls us onwards on this journey. The sea is so big and our boat is so small but we are held. We are held. I do not know the future but I know the one who does and in the midst of the pain, the not understanding, the seeming silence, the unbelief I cling onto hope in the one who has taken hold of me and from whom I cannot hide. The One who has searched me and known me, the One who knit me together in my mothers womb, the One who has poured out unimaginable love and mercy on me. The One who sees me and the One who has said he will come back to make all the sad things come untrue. Until then we wait and wonder and take faltering steps in the ancient paths again.
Sunday morning we will commit our lives into God’s safe hands for the future, we will be thankful, we will be sad and we will eat lots of good good food because we have a God of feasting and joy who loves a good banquet. Then we will watch tennis and try not to think too hard about what has just happened.
We’re praying this prayer at the end of the meeting tomorrow. To commit our lives into God’s hands, to ask for his help, to rest in His strength to get us home.
“Father, we thank you that we are your dearly loved children, your workmanship.
We stand, at the end of Christ Church and at the beginning of something new.
We don’t know what the future holds but we thank you that you know the future and we can know you.
Today we make no grand promises of our faithfulness, we are aware of our weakness, but we look to your grace, your strength, your promise to keep us until the end.
Please send us out from here to walk in the good ways you have prepared for us to do.
Please provide for us as we take the next steps into the unknown and help us find strength in you to serve you all our days.
Finally we ask that the you, the God of peace, would equip us with everything good for doing your will, and would work in us what is pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”