I love the idea of church! I love this sense that we are gathered on a Sunday morning (and other days) not because we are all alike (although, to our detriment, we too often are!) not because we have responsibilities to fulfill (although, admittedly, that is sometimes the reason we show up), not because we have simply developed a habit (although that can actually be a help when we need to show up but don't feel like it), but because we are hungry and thirsty for a deeper and more durable truth and a more sustainable life in the world. And at its best, the Church has something deeply important to offer here.
But here's a shocker: Churches are not perfect, nor are the people within them. Ok, you probably already knew that! And you'll probably know this is also true of St. Andrew. But if we are busy being our true and best selves, if we are paying attention to the rich voice of truth we find inside of us, we are always busy imagining a better reality and growing into it. And the idea and practice of church is a way of doing just that kind of imagining and growing.
I was not raised in the Presbyterian (PCUSA) denomination. But I was brought up in a church that, for all its faults, cared for me and my family. It was most evident, I suppose, when my dad died while I was in high school, but I was profoundly nurtured and mentored and shaped by people who loved me not because we shared a last name, but because they understood that's what they were to do, they understood that in giving we receive, they understood that the "we" not the "I" will get us to the end of our lives in better shape. And, so no matter my other criticisms, I think I will always understand my place in the church as an essential for my well-being and for the life of the world.
I'm here in the PCUSA and at St. Andrew because it is a place that works for me. I'm able to be intellectually honest. Our denomination believes that all people of all ethnicities, sexualities, social locations and abilities are equally and fully welcome. We're willing to live with uncertainty and complexity, and in fact, understand that as a condition of truth. I can be intentionally connected to the people who show up around here on Sundays and during the days in-between when we find ourselves working for the benefit of the world we love. I am invited to be my better self as I am gently and graciously drawn to deal with our often difficult differences, misunderstandings, and even conflict, and with my own brokenness as a way toward what we have called salvation, which, in my mind has a whole lot more to do with the "now" than we've often let on - the beautiful words for peace from our sister religions perhaps capture the idea more fully: shalom, salaam. I'm here because I'm not just an "I" but because we are a "we" and I understand just a little bit more of that with each week of practice. I more fully know the "other" in myself as I come to know the "other" in you. And I think that "otherness" has a lot to do with what we often call God.
I'm here because I find it helps me to encounter the mystery of the Holy, of God, as I find myself in the stories we tell that have been told for millennia, and as we allow our own story to be written for the benefit of generations to come. I'm here because when I'm down, which I am sometimes, I find my hope renewed in this life we seek and practice together. When I am uncertain of what's going on in my life or unsettled by my world, I find this to be a place I can find wisdom, vision, and possibility. I'm here to speak truth to power that is self-interested. When I am discouraged by all the ways we divide ourselves and allow privilege and difference to tear us apart, this is a place where we actually give something else a try, where we try to proclaim it through the life we live together and the ways we live in the world. And I think it has some promise!
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.