by S. Schaefer
It seems like a presumptuous thing I’m doing, this writing, this reaching.
After all, the prodigal came back by himself. He made the journey alone. And he came back expecting to be a slave.
I must confess (it’s the only way to peace with myself) that I have an agenda. It’s to not make this journey alone.
I don’t have it figured out. I have more questions than answers, and on my worst days I practice church begrudgingly. But on my best days, I have a deep burden and a vision.
We were like so many I know. Young, full of passion and vision and hope, ready to serve God as pastors. We threw ourselves in hard, employing all the fervor that the blind naivete of youth allows. But at some point, reality set in that this was hard – much harder than we were prepared for. We became wounded. We were abandoned by the churches we served. We desperately needed ministry ourselves but could see no options for our own health. We wondered what we were doing (ministry or making a mistake) and why we had ever thought this was a good idea.
There came a moment when we stepped out and made a bitter promise to be gone for good.
So many around us did too. Not all were pastors or in some type of leadership. Some were those who had been raised from birth in the church and cared so deeply about it that they could not bear to stand by, tolerating abuse by church leadership. Their walking away was a withdrawal of their permission for church to be what it had become.
There are days I believe deeply that leaving was my saving grace; and there are days I think leaving was sin, but one perhaps a bit understandable or at least spurred by what felt like irremediable pain, the tension between naivete and knowing too much, and a deficient experience of what church can be. Most days, it seems an odd mixture of both.
My burden is for the younger brothers of the church, this prodigal body which has left the practice of regular gathering, of which I am one.
My bent is evident. I believe we ought to be going home, returning to our God and the place God’s Spirit dwells which is in God’s people.
But with honesty.
We have a word for the church. We have a message. As one body we cannot be whole without revealing our wounds, naming the offenses, and calling the rest of the body to account. We must make space for the pain to be real and ultimately for reconciliation.
This is why I write. I ache that we might return together to a practice of feasting, of eucharist together, and find with one another how we are beloved, though we have left. I ache that we will return with sincere hopes to be servants in this house, and that being so loved might mean we would serve all the more fervently.
All I can do here is offer my story, envision what I long for going forward as church, wrestle and get this wrong and sometimes right, and pray my wandering was not all for naught. I long for my honesty to be hope and for you to ask curiously and perplexed, “why in the world would she go back home?”
Please stay, and find out.