But I cast no stones because I’ve been one of these fickled congregants – often. Even in our current church we have attended faithfully but have not taken the membership plunge. Why? Aside from the fact that I can be a bit blasé about the need for formal membership in many types of organizations, truthfully, I have to say I enjoy not being in the fray of church leadership, or even committee participation. If I’m a member, I can’t not volunteer, not participate - my inner nag won’t hear of it. But if I’m NOT a member, we’ll then the nag switch is turned off – or at least it’s in its electronic sleep mode. Zzzzzzz. Life is good, I think.
Traditions in the context of denominations and church culture are interesting. I was raised Catholic and think of liturgical services, pastoral vestments, and books and books of written prayers as ultimate expressions of traditionalism. In the late 1970s/early 80s, (and long-departed from the Catholic Church), my wife and I were members of a rapidly growing very contemporary church in our area. This church was definitely non-traditional – no liturgy, no 18th century hymns, no pipe organ, no choir robes (are you kidding, no choir!). It wasn’t even called a church but ***** Christian Center after the trend that started in California. We were reinventing Christianity, dude. Get with the program. This church attracted a whole raft of ex-Catholics (big French Canadian Catholic area, us) disillusioned with their own faith traditions, and many who rode the Catholic Charismatic Movement to its end point and were seeking a new church home. So I recall once at the height of this church’s popularity talking with a wise friend (who did not attended this happening church but a more traditional one) about how we were casting off traditions and blazing new roads through the wilderness. “Yeah,” he opined dryly, “but after a few years have passed you’ll forget the reasons why you do something in a certain way, why you pray this, or intone that. Then it will all be just ‘tradition’ and few if any will remember the well-intentioned origins. You’ll be one of the rest.” Wise words, AVI. I’ve not forgotten them all these years. And that happening church we had so much faith in? It went through leadership crises, power struggles, unchecked extremism, and finally splintered and dissolved. There’s nothing left of the organization itself – traditional or otherwise. But most of us have held on to our faith, in spite of events and maybe some questionable choices.
The other evening we were discussing faith with good friends, three couples of the PC persuasion (Practicing Christians), and the topic of regrets came up. What did we regret with respect to faith choices we had made in years past? Sending our children to Christian schools instead of public school? Child-raising techniques that some may think too strict? Church failures? Lots of lively discussions ensued. A week later one of the couples shared they continued to reflect on the regret issue after the evening discussion concluded. Regarding church involvement over the years, they decided they regretted becoming a formal part of leadership (in this case, Elder Board at a former church during a factional period where the pastor was ultimately driven out and the church dissolved into near-nothingness). But they had no regrets about all the volunteering and worker-bee activities they participated in over many years. And they were as strong as ever in their personal faith.
Amen to that.