First Sunday back at the old church. The people at the church seem to be brought closer, almost huddled together. I remembered the church being noisier and livelier, with perhaps more fragmentation of little groups of people. Maybe the departure of Pastor J caused this, or other people leaving, getting sick, dying. The vision of what they could accomplish seems to have lessened from when we were there last. It seems like most of the old timers are going to hang on there until they die, and the relative newcomers who were there when we were there before are mostly single professionals or gay couples in their thirties and forties. I don’t know for certain if I could really say that it still feels like the same church that felt like home four years ago, but I am not sure if I want to bother trying to find someplace else.
The sermon was probably more like the ones I used to remember J giving, but I would have to say it was a bit more blunt and to the point. There wasn’t a great breadth of ideas to be shared, or a happiness and joy about the love of Jesus. Admittedly the text was the one about Jesus saying he’s a sword and a divider of families, but the associate or interim pastor seemed intent on relentlessly beating the drum about sexism existing in the church–this church, even–without offering up any specific examples. It isn’t hard to imagine that there is still sexism in the church, but I do miss Joseph’s warm, compassion and subtlety–he wasn’t afraid to express a need for more openness, tolerance and understanding, but there was never a sense of anger about Joseph like there was with this pastor. Maybe she has a right to be angry, but I am not sure if the sermon was precisely the message I was looking for upon my return to Austin.
I would have to contend that I am probably not nearly as liberal, progressive and enlightened as a lot of these people and the people I will encounter at this seminary. I still find it difficult to refer to God as a “she,” not because I can’t see God as being someone beyond genders, and therefore deserving of both gender pronouns–it’s more along the lines of childhood conditioning to see God as a father, rather than a mother–and, when I start to see God as a mother, I have to work at it a bit not to see God as MY mother.
However, I am not the least bit interested in seeing what more conservative strains of Presbyterianism or other more conservative denominations have to offer–the wrath of the pastor on his high horse who is railing against everyone in contemporary society (except other conservatives, of course) isn’t a person I want to get to know or become.
Of course, I can’t expect a church I left four years ago to stand still, especially when I knew that its beloved pastor had left town, along with one of the younger (younger as in early forties) deacons who seemed like a fixture there. The people of the church deserve to seek and find the right tempo for what they, as a group who by and large was there even before I showed up the first time, feel like they need to have to sustain themselves as a church family. And, maybe it’s a good thing that I won’t ever feel quite perfectly at home there, since I am down here to go to seminary and be sent someplace else where I hope to discover the church home that IS right for me. If I were to get too attached to this church, it would make leaving to go preach somewhere else that much harder.
It does make it a lot easier being back and knowing that I am only here for a little while. The mobs and traffic everywhere in Austin can hopefully continue to roll off my back, as I know that it’s not forever. It also helps that I no longer have this sense of being here to prove something, become someone and find someone–I am just here to get an education and go illuminate the Bible for others.