I received an email last week from ‘Linda’ in England who was a member of the congregation in London, 39 years ago. In her words, she had been ‘tracking’ me down for ages. She asked if I would give her call via zoom. She had a question about religion that she thought I could answer. So I contacted her.
After we got over the weirdness of it all; realising that we and our children were all 39 years older, that we still sounded the same, and after we’d condensed four decades of life into a few minutes, we got onto the question: ‘Can you still call yourself a Christian if you’ve given up on the bible and how the church uses it’? A good question and one that can generate a lot of angst.
She still remembered services and discussions in London that opened up fresh ways of thinking about the ancient texts and when they were written. However, after we had left London and returned to Melbourne, ‘Linda’ and her family moved to a small village in Suffolk. They went to a local church and couldn’t adjust to the formal and conservative nature of it. After a few months, they searched further away and found a slightly more ‘modern’ United Reformed Church. But after a couple of years, it closed down and they simply all stopped going. Her hubby died a few years later and the children finished studies, left home and moved back to London for work. She had married again and was very happy.
She went back to church a few times over the years but discovered that very little had changed and gave up again. She said something very significant: ‘I realised that I had changed so much in my thinking about God, but the church hadn’t’.
So, I asked her why she had tracked me down to ask me that question rather than making a connection with someone in England. She said, “Because I knew you wouldn’t laugh or judge me”.
It was a rather beautiful and affirming thing to say but think about it for a moment.
Here we have a 70-year-old woman, who was a terrific member of the Church when she was 30, but unable to find a spiritual ‘home’ where she could wrestle with issues of faith and still feel that she was part of something good and life-giving.
Instead of providing ‘Linda’ with an answer to her question, I asked her to answer the question herself based on how she was feeling and the thinking she must have done already.
She said, “I still love and value the Jesus story, it still influences how I live but I don’t like what the church has done to it”.
I tried to reassure her that in many places the church was changing. I’ve since sent her a reading list of a few helpful books, a couple of blog sites, the names of a few people she could chat with in the UK, and details of a progressive Christian network in her area.
Jesus said that his mission was to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel. I’ve always felt that an important part of the Church’s ministry is to those who feel they can no longer belong it.