I love the way 2007 began for Bill and I: the pastor of the church we were attending at the time opened the building and made himself available to share communion with anyone who wanted to stop by on New Year’s Eve. The place was lit by candlelight, and he had quiet worship music playing in the background. We stopped by there – the place was almost completely empty – just the pastor and one other person, but God was there, and it seemed just about the best way to end one year and begin a new one.
Though the church didn’t work out for us (that pastor fled the empty building – and the folks who paid the mortgage on it – in the process, snagging a plum position at a Big Box church across town), I value what that evening meant as we staggered into 2007.
* * * * * * *
The wreckage of that “empty building” church launched Bill and I back on the road, looking for a new church. We’d only been there a few months, and slipped out the back door almost as quietly as we’d entered the fall before.
And we found ourselves on the road again. And we didn’t want to be.
This year has been an illustration of a new “ah ha” in my life. It’s occurred to me that people usually find themselves spiritually homeless for two reasons: they’re pilgrims or they’re refugees.
Pilgrims are on a quest for a new thing: they’re responding to the call and conviction of God in their lives and they can’t help but leave the familiar and journey into the unknown. They’re on the quest of their lives, following Him.
Refugees*, on the other hand, are fleeing something terrible, running for their lives. They’re not sure if there’s safe haven “out there”, but they know they’ll perish if they stay where they are.
This year was more of a refugee experience for Bill and I than a pilgrimmage. Bill was more gracious than I about it, but I can tell you that as the year wore on, I felt like I was staggering from one church to the next, looking for safety and not really discovering it in the places I’d expected to find it.
I did find it in the prayers of my husband, the hymns of a hospice nurse, the words of Scripture, the phone calls and visits with friends, the deep connection with God I experience as I write, and in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God Himself is a refuge, a present help in time of need.
Last week, I told someone that I simply want to feel safe at church. I understand now that those are the words of a refugee. Though God Himself is our refuge, His Bride has been charged with absorbing and mirroring His character. She should be safe, because God is safe. Bill and I are now attending an Anglican church. I cried through most of the service the first week we were there, I think because I smelled safety in the air there. I believe (and I think the Bible bears me out on this) that one of the roles of the church in our lives should be to shape us as pilgrims, pursuing God.
Which is ironic, since a pilgrim’s life can be just as risky as that of a refugee.
(*Note to all refugees of civil wars and persecution out there: I don’t mean to diminish your suffering by using it as a metaphor for a spiritual condition. You are my heroes, and my inspiration.)