Is this my seat at the kiddie table?

Just in time for this winter’s epic Polar Vortex to swoop into town this winter with its alternating gifts of snow and subzero weather, my husband and I decided it was time to figure out if it still made sense to make the hour and twenty minute round trip drive to attend our church on Sunday mornings. Rush hour traffic threw additional travel time into the mix on weeknights, which prohibited our attendance at other church events. No one else we knew at the church lived in our community. We’d become the people living at the distant edge of a suburban-long drive – Pluto in the church social solar system, if you will. Because of the speed in the end game at which our short sale resolved a year an a half ago, we didn’t have the capacity to consider undertaking a church search at that time. It was easier to simply leave some part of our lives “as is” and deal with the question of where and with whom to worship later, when the dust settled a bit and we’d gotten our bearings in our new zip code. Finally, at the beginning of the year, we realized that Pluto is a lonely place to live, and decided to throw ourselves into the ring and launch a search for a church. Sigh. Again.

It’s been ten years since we left Wisconsin. We’ve lived in three houses in three different suburbs, twice as renters and once as homeowners who purchased a townhome just in time for the economy to go into its 2007-2012 free fall. We lost our house and a lifetime of carefully-stewarded equity within the last 2 years. As we look at looming retirement, we have more questions than answers about what our future may look like. It’s a little unsettling, to tell you the truth.

We’ve been a part of several congregations during the last decade. Our nomaidc housing situation affected some of the ways we connected with church communities during this time, as did our battle scars from serving in church leadership roles during our younger years. We’re still a little skittish about getting pulled into yet another power struggle or political battle – we’ve gotten pulled into a couple of doozies in recent years in a consultant role because of our battle-scarred experience. We’re glad to counsel and pray, but know we simply don’t have the stomach to go through the same old same old again as a player in one of these dramas. (See “definition of insanity”.) Bottom line for us, we are hoping to be a part of a community of worshippers that values what we do have to offer, and points us toward Jesus in lovingly confrontational ways.

In our trial visit at a new church 15 minutes from our home, a “neighborhood” church in suburban terms, we ran into a pastor from one of our former churches. He was the sermon-giver, the small-group organizer, the guy who hired staff and went to elder meetings and networked with other local pastors. He probably shoveled the parking lot sometimes, moved chairs in advance of events, met with people in crisis, and did a lot of problem solving. He’d parted ways with the leadership team of the former church as all stated with PC Christian political correctness that “we’re heading in different directions”. That language is usually a polite way of saying there’s been a WWF-style power struggle behind the scenes. When he left the church, everyone was very polite and affirming of him and his family, full of blessing for whatever God was going to next with them.

Now, he’s quietly attending the church we’re visiting. There was, I suspect, a time when he just wanted to be left alone to heal and to sort through what had happened to him. He told us he eventually got involved in a couple low-key of ministries at the new congregation and the leadership team knows he is a former pastor from a neighboring town. But when we chatted with him, he wondered aloud if there was a place for him in the body of Christ anywhere but filling a seat in the metaphorical kiddie-table of the audience/congregation, writing a check, and perhaps lending a hand by clearing the parking lot on a snowy morning. Is there room at the grown ups’ banquet table for him, his gifts and his experience? He’s willing. But perhaps the chairs have already been set at the adult table, and there’s no room for newcomers like him.

It is a question I am asking for many of us who are navigating our relationship with a local faith community at midlife. If you are a church leader at any level, you are navigating these issues, too. I invite you to take a few moments to weigh in on the issues of what it means to lead/serve congregants at midlife and beyond. I’ll be addressing the results of the survey in blog posts beginning later this month. It is an important conversation, and I hope to hear your voice at the table as we think through these issues together.

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