Church is Fantastic!?

by Clare Shearman, Director of Heart of Life, 16/11/22

This week we left church without hanging around for morning tea. On the way down the road we decided to go for a coffee in our local coffee shop. We bumped into a neighbour who said “Good morning, how was church?” My heart sank as I replied, “it was alright.” Catching myself saying this and noticing the feeling, I quickly followed up with a “No, it was good.” Somehow, ever the evangelist, I felt responsible for holding up the practice of going to church as being an enjoyable exercise. An exercise that my neighbour may want to participate in. Indeed, this neighbour, a musician, has come to church to lead the community carol concert for the last few years and, as far as I know, at no other time.
This encounter has niggled away at me since. I don’t think I have ever emerged from a swim in the sea without being able to wax lyrical about it for hours if called upon to do so. I think I could sell cold water swimming to dolphins. Why not then, going to church to my neighbour?
For me finding God, my faith, was born out of Christian parents and church going. After a long time away from church and after a particularly upsetting time in my life, I had a quiet yearning to return ‘home’. To fill a gaping hole in my life. For me, at the time, the hole was filled by the shape of a church and a church community to which I could belong. In returning I was embraced and ‘formed’ in my faith. I was introduced to a home group where it was safe to ask questions, safe to question what I heard and didn’t understand or relate to from the pew. A safe place to grow in my relationship with God.
As I moved countries, and lost my spiritual bearings, I found my ‘tribe’ at the Carmelite Centre, Heart of Life, and with the Chemin Neuf Community. Over the years finding God in ‘church’ has become less important to me and equally less evident. My spirituality formed by the systemic church has grown and evolved to embrace God in nature, in stillness and silence with a community of meditators, facilitated by excellent formation as a spiritual director and then through ongoing spiritual direction and connection with religious orders. What I have found is that our journey of faith is a unique and personal journey, undertaken in the ordinariness of everyday life. Living and being every day of the week, as well as in church on a Sunday.
I still yearn for that community of faith, people who I can talk with, walk, and deepen my faith alongside. I certainly have this at work. I talk at length about programs and reflection events, spiritual direction and supervision offered by Heart of Life that do this very thing.
I am left wondering. What it will take for me to once again have the automatic response that sings about my ‘church’ from the rooftops – or even if this is the invitation that God has for me/us at this point in history. What responsibility does that place on the church and me to be the change we want to see in the world and what is that change? The question is possibly fantastical and at the same time worth reflecting on.