Several years after being baptized at the age of 14, I prayerfully chose a small Christian college to pursue my degree.
There, I began to struggle with my faith.
Try as I might, I couldn’t unquestioningly accept my college culture’s indoctrination. I couldn’t successfully initiate conversation or debate when I encountered a doctrinal point in tension with my prior church experience. I couldn’t articulate a theological framework that satisfied my biblically-minded, confidently outspoken peers. I couldn’t quote Scriptures and spontaneously exegete parables to back up my inner nudge that something in that faith space just didn’t sit right with me.
Consequently, I spent several years silencing my questions, wondering at the validity of my own faith, and trying mightily to “grow” into a mature, reasoned, logical church culture that pushed all feeling aside in favor of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” – as if there is no possibility of our misunderstanding or misinterpreting “what God said.”
With God’s grace, I pushed through this stage of my faith formation, working out my salvation in fear and trembling, to arrive in a space of progressive, justice-oriented doctrine, fearless and unashamed of my convictions.
But there still was the matter of the church.
During this time, I began following progressive thinkers and bloggers and theologians on Twitter, in podcasts, and through books. But in my real day-to-day life, here in the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d failed to make similar connections.While I never left the church physically – and even though my denomination was making strides nationally in support of same-sex marriage and clergy, and working visibly in support of reconciliation, all through the lenses of Scripture and tradition – I still felt somewhat disconnected.
And then a new priest came to town. Fresh from seminary and embodying a fresh perspective, consistent kindness, and a compassion and work ethic that plugged him immediately into the local community.
Without realizing it, I gradually began to heal in the cracked, broken places I’d previously learned to live with by keeping my wounds held close to my chest.
In a real and true way, the past two years have allowed me to exhale – with every sermon that leaned into sins of injustice rather than shying away from them, with every encouragement to articulate my ideas rather than stifling them, with each shared dinner around their table or ours.
Before I learned last month that our priest would be moving with his family to Maine, I had not realized the depth of the healing I’ve experienced these last few years. I’m not sure I can articulate what it means to have had a real-life, in-person pastor espousing a gospel centered around Christ and compassion and justice.
I know that my faith will still challenge me at times, and that growth in Christ resembles more of a Jeremy Bearimy than a straight line. But as I prepare to say goodbye to our pastor and friend, closing this healing chapter in the life of my faith, I find myself filled with gratitude.
I’ve been blessed by our pastor and his family. And now, reluctant though I am to accept that they are leaving, i nonetheless feel equipped to keep moving forward, in faith.