No place to go
My experience of church growing up was that of an extended family. We attended small rural churches of no more than 50 people. Many a Saturday night after church (there was one paster for 4 parishes, Saturday at 5 pm was our time) was spent at someone’s house, where the adults chatted about deeper matters over egg salad sandwiches and the kids played all sorts of games. Fr. Eric, our priest back then and still a good friend likes to remind me of the time he suggested I find a mass to go to while out of town at a hockey tournament, to which I replied, “Why would we go? We don’t know anybody there.” From a young age, the people I gathered with was integral to my faith experience.
Church continued to have a significant place in my life. I stayed active, serving on parish council, organizing a youth group, leading social justice initiatives. I remember organizing a skit with the youth with me as Jésus, a Mexican coffee grower promoting fair trade. We travelled from parish to parish with our message and a car full of packaged coffee. In university I copied Protestant friends by bringing a notepad to church to take notes during the sermons. I even considered becoming a priest, attending a come-and-see weekend at St. Peter Seminary in London as part of my discernment process. In the end, Rowena won and the church lost, as Eric put it in his homily for our wedding.
Fast forward to today, where I have been seriously struggling for over a year to find meaning and fulfillment in my experience of church. In a world where I can interact, dialogue and connect, sitting passively in a pew, going through the same rituals every Sunday no longer satisfies. As a community we do not know each other, going through the motions week after week. Some continue to do volunteer work year after year, despite how unfulfilling it is. What has changed? The world and my faith journey have evolved; the church experience has not.
My work is partly to blame. As an Agile coach, my goal is to help organizations and teams transform their experience of work, where the core roots: respect, courage, focus, commitment and openness can flourish. I have tasted many times the fruits of collaborative work, where all voices are valued and heard, leading to consensus decision making. The Agile community has taught me we do our best work when we can be creative, have fun, feel a sense of purpose; that servant leadership and self-organized teams trump top-down control for results.
Agile is a way of looking at and experiencing the world that matches my personal values, values that were shaped in part by those years growing up in small church communities. I use my experience with Agile to better family life – my wife and I have weekly planning and retrospectives. Agile training helps me create an inclusive atmosphere for volunteer efforts like ChangeCamp Sault. I have often imagined the beauty of a self-organized, empowered church community.
Last October, I began an experiment to apply Agile to take steps towards creating vibrant church community. I was blown away by what this small group accomplished in just their first session – imagine an entire parish community engaged in creating its own vision! Imagine being part of a community actively working on “lives connected”, “positive power”, “bonding mission” and “spiritual partnership”. That’s what I long for. Of course, defining and creating are not the same thing, and I soon realized that major, fundamental change within the Catholic church would be necessary to achieve this vision. Governance model turned upside down. Parishioners given real authority and input. Focus in the mass shifted away from priest, choir and ministers to the people in the pews. Major systemic change that feels so far away from becoming reality.
Unfortunately, there is no real dialogue about the elephant in the sanctuary. Well, I’ve had enough suffering. Sadly, after almost 40 years, church has become an impediment to my faith journey. I feel a sense of loss, with no place to go, only that God is calling me to something greater. I know I am not alone. Starting now, our family begins a journey outside traditional church, meeting in our home, praying for direction. We invite others who thirst for more to come join us and help create that vibrant faith community. In a follow-up post, I will share more about this turn to organic church. I do not know where all this will lead, only that I have to go this way to be true to myself and my beliefs. Egg salad sandwiches optional.