In the last six months that I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve been to church three times. It’s not really because I’m busy, nor is it because I work on Sundays (I don’t). For the most part, I like having a lazy Sunday. Yet in such a populated area as Portland is (compared to Eugene, anyway), it’s difficult to find a small congregation. I highlight this because I’m terribly introverted and being in rooms of a 100 or more people is draining in and of itself. I don’t even have to talk to anyone to feel drained.
This is where my time at George Fox Seminary comes into play. In the absence of a fellowship on Sundays, hanging out at the seminary has been a great replacement. I’m not always going to encounter the same people from day to day, but I’m going to encounter just enough people to have a (somewhat) healthy social life – at least, for an introvert.
Most of the conversations don’t dive too deeply; “Hey, how’s your paper going?” or “What classes do you have today?” are some of the more generic things you might get asked on a regular day. Over time, though, the topics shift to “Hey, I liked what you said in class,” or “I heard about your grandpa’s cancer; how’s he doing? How are you doing?” Not long after those topics come up, even deeper ones arise: “So, where are you from? What’s your story?”
There’s something rather mystical about the act of sharing your story, being vulnerable, and giving someone else the opportunity to see life from your perspective. In an age of instant file-sharing, books being read through movies, and the (supposedly) fictional mind-melds, it seems we tend to grow accustomed to instant information. Yet when someone’s sharing their story, everything slows down. As memories arise – both painful and joyous – uncontrollable emotions may rise with them. When that happens, the story is now no longer about information-gathering; it’s about feeling what someone else feels – inasmuch as it is possible to do so.
In the past seven days I’ve shared my story with half a dozen different people. Most weeks are not like this at all. But with as busy as I’ve been with research, work, reading, and regular assignments, I needed it. And if my seminary wasn’t my place of fellowship, I may not have had it. And if I didn’t have the opportunity to recount my story, I wouldn’t have been reminded of why I do what I do.
Seminary has become my “every day” setting and has provided a fellowship of sorts that I didn’t have before and yet was in dire need of. It’s a place to hear others’ stories and to share my own. With as busy as all our lives are between work, school, and whichever form of social life we may have, having that space to share stories is crucial. Stories remind us of where we’ve been and simultaneously of where we’re going. Life becomes pretty dull when we lose sight of that – when we lose sight of our story.
In your “every day” setting, what’s the fellowship like? What are some of the conversations had or stories shared? If you’re in a seminary setting, what’s it like where you are?
@Jeremy: Your post reminds me a bit of the “scandal” surrounding recent comments by Donald Miller where in a blog post of his he admitted that he rarely “attends church” anymore because he doesn’t, in gist, gain much from it, learn much when there, sense the divine, and live in real community. It doesn’t sound like your quite saying what he said, because his approach was more from the negative end, but there are touch points in that you aren’t lacking community, you aren’t lacking a place where you sense the divine, you are learning, and so forth. Would you say that there is anything in particular that you sense lacking when you don’t meet with a local assembly on Sundays?
I ask because recently (ok, for like six years) I’ve been trying to think through why we gather together, especially those of us who don’t have something like the essentiality of weekly Eucharist as part of our gathering. Obviously, we need each other, but we can find each other without centralized buildings on Sundays (like the early Church). We can do music, prayer, teaching, preaching, even communion in small house communities or in “living together’ whether that be intentional communities like New Monasticism or seminaries as in your case. The one thing I don’t think we can do as well in small communities is develop resources, whether for organizing educational institutions like seminaries or for helping those in need (e.g., Imago Dei where you live can help many people in need because they can gather together many resources from their large community….also Solid Rock).
Sorry about this long ramble. Thoughts?
Thanks for sharing some pretty personal issues and feelings, Jeremy. I’ll try to respond to your ending questions, as I really want people to on my blog also, and rarely do I get that. (BTW, for context, I’m a long-ago seminary grad, and 20 – 24 years ago, spent 4 part-time years in a second [PhD] seminary program… not on or near campus, though, in the latter.)
In my “every day” setting, I have to say that most of my real “fellowship” is online, or occasionally by phone…. Been that way for several years at least. Yes, I’ve had some workplace friends, of sorts, but lately they are almost all as young or younger than my own kids. And most don’t have a lot in common with me of a spiritual or intellectual nature. But I’m enough of an introvert (ambivert, perhaps) that that isn’t really a problem for me. However, nearing (or in) typical retirement years, but with lots of energy and creativity still in me, I really do long for more places/ways/times to contribute and to create or lead educational and developmental activities… and which have a spiritual or “whole person” orientation (or specifically Christian, as I’ll explain briefly).
For several years after my “leaving the fold” of Evangelicalism in my mid-40s, I didn’t find any Christian “location” to fellowship or contribute while transitioning in my orienting paradigm(s). After continuing to study things like Christian origins and the NT, and writing an ebook on spiritual growth, eventually, based on Fowler and variations of “stage theory”; and exploring the broader “tent” of Christianity, I decided to plug back into some local expression of the “progressive” aspect of Christian churches and mission. I’d been involved there some, peripherally and intellectually, but not with a congregation for a year or so, after leaving a tiny and diminishing “Creative Center for Spiritual Living” (former Religious Science) group locally. (I.e., there was overlap between my several-year fellowship with “spiritual but not religious” folks and re-connecting as a self-identified Christian and in a Christian congregation).
I love the church I found (Pilgrim, in the UCC) and joined less than 18 months ago, but it is almost 20 miles away, so I’m not even regular on Sundays and only “fellowship” or participate in their “activism” or events on about a once-a-month basis… hardly a “daily” practice. I ideally would like that to be more… to be geographically and otherwise closer to at least a few people from the church, or other friends who share interests and at least some perspectives of mine. However, I function quite well with what I have as I’m trying to build some additional and more meaningful ways to “fellowship”, be supported and support, etc. (I guess one “moral” of my story is that it seems few of us these days get to “settle into” one place and way of doing what you discuss that lasts the bulk of our lives… and maybe such stability is not the best anyway, though I used to fantasize it for myself, many years ago.)
I’m a pastor of a recent church plant and a theological studies online student. I’ve got a grad student who attends. One focus of our church’s culture is community. I often say something like, “We are to bear each other’s burdens, and we can’t do that unless we know what’s going on each other’s lives, and we can’t do that without talking, and we can’t talk if we don’t trust each other, and we can’t trust each other if we don’t spend time with each other, in 1 Co 13 love kinda way.” We place a lot of emphasis on the body members needing the other body members.
That said, what would church for seminarians look like?
@Brian: I don’t mind the ramble at all; just another way of thinking “outloud.” I haven’t yet read Miller’s post, but I mean to. From what you’ve shared here, there are a few similarities, but overall I think my lack of a Sunday fellowship is due to not feeling compelled to commit. That might sound self-serving, but in many of the church families I’ve been to, their respective focus wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to “buy into.” Whether it be the sermon, worship, or simply the seemingly monotonous motions, I just haven’t felt a desire to keep coming back. And then there’s the whole I-like-Sunday-mornings-for-sleep thing. It’s really difficult to give that up, haha.
it is an interesting thing to ponder; whether or not the established church place is needed – overall I think it is and I believe we should strive to commit to one (even if we don’t like some of the elements – I know this applies to myself), but yet there obviously needs to be a better practice of doing something as a collective body. I’m not sure what that something looks like, but I know that it doesn’t happen very often when separated from the larger church institutions.
@Howard: Thanks for sharing bits of your story here! My “community” has also grown much more online than in recent years. Of course, this is probably due to being a full-time seminarian, not having too many coworkers (also not working very often), and not being a part of any fellowship. Even so, I find that I have a lot in common with many of the people I interact with on Twitter or in blogs (either theirs, here, or my own).
I think I kind of resonate with what you say about “‘leaving the fold’ of Evangelicalism,” of course, probably for a few different reasons. As I mentioned to Brian, my reasons revolve around the overall focus of the service; nothing seems appealing enough to make me want to come back. If you mind me asking, what were some of your reasons? And similar to Arvo’s question, what might your ideal environment be?
@Arvo: That is a great outlook on what church should be about. And I’m not sure what an ideal seminarian church would look like. But what I picture is a place where rest may be provided, even within the message. I might be alone in thinking this, but I feel that I’m so caught up in critical thinking with my classes and course material; having to put the “thinking cap” back on for Sunday morning tends to burn me out. Yet at the same time, I appreciate messages that honestly engage the difficult passages and interact with some scholarly work – though I recognize not many people will understand the scholarly work, so that one’s less of a priority. Does that help?
And a few free cookies never hurt anybody 🙂
Cookies are good! Yeah, we have people with developmental disabilities and grad student seminarians, so I’m mixing in simplicity with obscure TC issues and stuff. Now that the grad seminary student (Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne were her professors when they were at Lincoln) (and, yes, I am name dropping) is coming I’m constantly fact checking myself as I’m preaching, even though she says she takes her thinking cap off and is simply trying to glean what God has for her.
What do you mean by rest within the message?
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