I have been thinking about the Uniting Church, our fortieth anniversary this week and what it means for me to be part of this cloud (crowd?) of witnesses.
I love the Uniting Church, although there have been times when I was unsure that we would make it this far. I love our attempts to understand ourselves in this place – in the context of twenty-first century Australia – and the faithful, fallible, foolhardy, sometimes false and occasionally fabulous, choices we make as a result.
I love the Uniting Church like that refractory child remaining steadfastly unconvinced (‘Why can’t you just do what I ask you?’), knowing that the energy for obstinacy and mistakes is the vitality which makes for creativity and wonder.
I love the Uniting Church like the grandmother who is always telling me how good it used to be, but who says in the next breath that ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to be living in this day and age’.
It’s the Uniting Church like the eccentric uncle who is always finding something wrong: with his health, with his house, with his neighbour, with his neighbour’s cat, with the fact that no one else can see how wrong things are and that no one ever listens. And he’s the first one to slip you some cash when you need it.
There’s the cousin, about whom everyone always rolls their eyes, who notices a wonderful flower or bird in the garden, or wears outrageous outfits, or marches in protests, but never has time for the “important” things, like getting the washing done, or tidying the house, or simply settling down. ‘And where did you get those leg warmers?’
Or when the Uniting Church acts like a great mum, saying ‘We’ll sort this out together’, and doing just that, when it seemed like there was no way of solving things. Or the great dad, providing support and encouragement, quiet and steadfast, without any fanfare.
Like any family, there are times when I am frustrated or annoyed. I am impatient that we seem to have constant meetings, reflections, or consultations, about everything. I despair that, like the most fallible of teenagers (and others of every age) we succumb to peer pressure and the facile values of the world around us.
Once or twice, I have been ashamed of our Church. I can’t believe how much some of us invest in trying to hurt, or accuse, or blame. And I am humbled by how much some of us bear when that hurt, blame and accusation strike.
Some families forgive easily, with grace and great example. Forgiveness usually comes at significant cost, but it is the only path in the life that Jesus Christ offers to us.
Like a lot of families, in the Uniting Church we don’t talk about our love much; most of us just get on with it. Sometimes, though, it would be good to name it out loud, to bear witness; we love and are loved by, our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ. And because we are so loved, we do our best at living out that love in the lives we lead.
We are pilgrims on the way towards a promised goal; “on the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and [we have] the gift of the Spirit in order that [we] may not lose the way.”
Grace, peace and love and many thanks for our shared lives.
How baffling you are, O Church,
and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
and yet how much I owe you!
I should like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal
and yet you have made me understand sanctity.
I have seen nothing in the world
more devoted to obscurity, more false
and I have touched nothing more pure,
more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted
to shut the doors of my soul in your face,
and how often I have prayed
to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you,
because I am you,
although not completely.
And where should I go?
from The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto
This is a revised article of one I wrote for Ruminations, the Rural Ministry magazine, in 2004.