The last few Sundays, we have started on time. I’m not sure if I’m bragging about that or not. Our stated start time is 11:15, but in the past few years we have slid back to 11:30 or so. We used to say 11 sharp, but when we said that, people showed up at 11 and wanted to chat and hang out. And now we say 11:15 and people show up at 11:15 and want to chat and hang out. I have feared that in the next three years we would find ourselves with an afternoon service. Maybe we would just skip straight to brunch.
It might appear on first glance that we don’t care. I often show up at the last minute. It is not uncommon to run into the musicians as we enter. I’ll start setting up the chairs while they do a quick run-through. Usually it’s the breakfast person who gets there first to start the coffee, but sometimes we realize there is no breakfast and somebody runs out at the last minute to scrape up some pastries and fresh fruit. Sometimes, it’s one of the musicians and we’re wondering if they will be back in time for the hymn. If not, we’ll muddle through. I will probably forget to assign readers or accidentally skip Prayers of the People or forget to take an offering. None of this is because we don’t care.
We care very much about a particular experience of church. It’s relaxed. It’s non-judgmental. It’s organic. It’s easy.
It’s also honest. There is a beauty in the truth of who we are. We talk about authenticity – we pride ourselves on it – but we also live it. When you poll the “nones,” those who have left church behind, they talk about a lack of authenticity, a lack of relevance. So now churches use that language to try to lure the youngsters back to church. I’m not sure they understand irony. In any case, I’m not sure the problem is precisely a lack of authenticity as how the pretense of authenticity serves power.
I don’t think it is the worst thing if people, at times, don’t think I know what I’m doing. I often start our conversations by stating that I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care or haven’t prepared, but that I’m not comfortable with where I arrived. I’m not sure how to resolve the things I’ve been thinking about all week. If I were presenting a sermon, that would be a problem. But I really believe in the wisdom of the body of Christ gathered together. Me not knowing creates space for all of us to walk down that road together. But it’s not just a tactic to open space for conversation for a half-hour on Sunday. It’s the lifeblood of the church.
A man – and it’s almost always a man – with all the answers has a lot of power. Your lack of answers is a weakness. You must submit yourself to the man with the plan in order to find strength, to get the right answers, to do the right thing, to be acceptable to God. You need to feel bad about yourself.
I don’t always have a plan. I certainly don’t have the answers. Not for you. I have a few for me and I’m happy to share them. Perhaps they could be your answers, too. I don’t know. So you don’t have to feel bad about yourself on my account. We’re in this together. We’ll find some answers together. We’ll find strength together. We’ll try to do the right thing together. Because the one answer I feel pretty good about is that we are all already acceptable to God.
Church in the Cliff may seem disorganized at times, but I would argue that we are organized around love. We’re not that put together because you don’t have to be, either. When you step into our space, I want you know that you are loved. I want you to relax, to rest and recharge for a world that won’t often tell you that you are loved. I want you to take it easy. Maybe if we can do that for an hour or so on Sunday, we can learn to do that out here in the real world.