Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Returning to Church: what does it mean to Join?

Over at Salon Jane Roper writes about returning to church, because of her kids. I find the article of interest in part because it is a point of contention whether or not people continue to return to church as they have children. Roper's article shows that at least some still do. Yet I am interested in the details. Roper was raised Congregationalist and returns to church among Unitarian Universalists, which itself historically comes out of the Congregationalists. Roper returns to a church community that has historical roots in a church of her own personal history and one that shares the conclusions she arrived at as a young adult. However more interesting is the description of a journey from being a joiner, participation in various groups, clubs and committees, to being against joining such institutions, and then deciding that there might be something to being a joiner (well sort of she still is a little uncomfortable with the idea) after all. This journey has some parallels to some of the journeys and struggles of certain members of Reconciler. We have wrestled with questions of what joining a group means. Does joining and having a community and working together necessarily, involve committees, fundraisers, service projects, study groups, retreats etc? Also, are you joining if you join for your kids? I suppose on some level it is admirable to do something for your children you wouldn't do if you did not have children because you on your own can't provide something you believe your children need. So, I am not saying there is nothing of value here but is what is valued community or the experience of community? I get the sense from the essay that the conclusion Roper has come to is that children need the experience of community, but the value of community itself is still questionable beyond providing an experience Roper want's her children to have.

Those who are at Reconciler and have come through Reconciler aren't so interested in the experience of community (or so it seems to me) but struggling with a particular sort of community grounded in a particular understanding of reality. In this struggle some of the programmatic aspect of American church and institutional life that Roper is re-embracing for the sake of her children, is actively questioned and discarded, and community and institution is opened up to reinterpretation and redefinition. Of course this is done also with a certain attempt to recall a very particular articulation of community centered upon a particular religious vision, quite different from what is being sought at a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Even so there is perhaps also a form of caution to some of the call's to more or less uncritically have churches embrace various types of social media. Roper should remind us Christians that there are elements of our embodied existence that can only be communicated as we gather together, as we Baptize, as we eat bread and drink wine, as we embrace at the peace. None of which can take place in the facebook, twitter etc. I say this as someone who does pray the daily office at times on Twitter thanks to the Virtual abbey. Yet it is different, from praying the office with the monks at St Gregories Abbey. My thought is not so much to critique the embracing of social media by churches but are we questioning the forms of community and through such questioning making sure that we as Christians are not allowing technology to move us from the incarnational and sacramental center of our faith. Which is something Roper seems to want to affirm or at least to have her children experience even though she doesn't believe in the incarnation itself.