Sunday, June 22, 2014

Notes From Slackerville

Once upon a time I used to be irritated by church slackers. You know, people who show up maybe once a month; who never volunteer for anything; whose seemingly indifferent involvement in congregational life placed a greater burden on the dozen people who always wind up doing everything; whose non-participation killed one program after another and whose silence always left the leadership guessing about what they were thinking, what we might be doing right or wrong.

I used to be irritated by such people. Then I became one.

We are actually on the verge of joining a new congregation. If this were a relationship, we have gone beyond casual dating; we've met the parents, so to speak; we're going steady but haven't set a date. (And for their part, they're between pastors, so things seem a bit in flux there as well.) But we haven't really become joiners; we haven't volunteered for anything other than contributing items to the church yard sale. And, truth be told, we don't attend church as regularly as we used to, even though this congregation is closer to our home.

Sometimes I get the guilts here in Slackerville. But other times -- well, it feels good to simply sit in a church pew without feeling the compulsion to sign up for the lector rota or that new discussion group; without knowing where the congregational bodies are buried and what interpersonal or political Sturm und Drang is roiling beneath the calm surface of the worship service.  Sometimes it feels just as good, if not better, to commune with the Holy in the context of a peaceful Sunday morning with Fellow Traveler and the four-leggeds, sitting in our pajama pants (the humans, not the animals) and enjoying one another's company.

I know that admission will not endear me to some of you reading this; certainly not to the Internet church nerds constantly bemoaning churchgoers who want congregations to do things for them instead of wanting to do things on behalf of the congregation. In my defense, I can only point to a former function of churches that seems to have gotten lost amid the contemporary emphasis on looking outward, not inward: care of souls. I don't hear a concern about that in circles where the compulsion is to scold churchgoers for not being more active and engaged; I don't detect a lot of interest in learning the why of people like me; people who've dialed back their participation in the life of their congregations, or who linger at the margins. Maybe some of the citizens of Slackerville aren't slackers; maybe they're the exhausted, the wounded, who need a stretcher to carry them off the field -- maybe even affirmation that the sidelines are where they need to be.

The thing is...I'm tired. I have been the good church do-bee for a long time, but now, in the words of Scotty the engineer, I canna do it. I canna do it physically or psychologically. When I go to church, I am going there for rest and refuge, not to get an assignment. Perhaps this is a temporary state until my health resolves. Perhaps it's going to define my participation in a congregation for the long haul. I'd like to think that, in the latter case, there would still be a place for me in the Church to just be. 


LoieJ said...

Besides the obvious drop off of numbers, every where it seems ***, there is also the trend that you write about: The "active" members may be in the pews only once/month rather than nearly every Sunday. And yes, I haven't seen this discussed. Although I'm usually in church, and currently on the council, I'm almost always in attendance. But that could change due to a time change of the service.

For those of us who are retirement age and/or grandparents, we may be taking more Sundays away from home. That make a difference in attendance.

But we were the ones who were always there before our hair got its color out of a bottle. Now we aren't seeing the middle aged families at all. They aren't there for reasons that are different than my speculation.

I do agree, we can't just start sticking jobs on people in the pews.

I went through a time quite some years back where it was all I could do to drag myself into the pew. I needed what I was getting and giving by just sitting there. I came to realize that we need to give people space to exist in whatever season of their life they happen to be in.

OK, the ***: The exception may be the mega used-to-be-ELCA church that my friends' adult offspring attends. They sat through confirmation last year. 500 youth were confirmed on one Saturday.

Teri said...

for everything there is a season--a time to run the place, and a time to rest; a time to volunteer and a time to refrain from volunteering; a time to stand up and a time to sit in the pew. :-)

It's like observing the sabbath even for the land, right? the field of your soul needs some rest. And that's okay. I hope you find the care and compassion you need in order to fulfill whatever form your call may take next.

Deb said...

I am right there with you. After over 30 years of very active participation in my small church, serving in just about every leadership role, I resigned as moderator about 1/2 through my 3 year term. I just couldn't do it anymore. I actually took a year's break from attending worship at my church (due mostly to a total lack of confidence/respect in pastoral leadership, but in part because the minute you step into church, you're asked to do something). I have returned to almost weekly worship, but I have made it very clear that I am there for worship and fellowship only. I expect that I will eventually be moved to active service again, but right now, I need to be a receiver, not a giver.