A Brief Reflection from NEXT Church Training: Church? Really?

In October, Mel and I were able to attend the NEXT Church community organizer training here in Baltimore! It was a weeklong experience in which leaders from the Industrial Area Foundation’s Baltimore chapter, BUILD, led programming on community organizing from a congregationally-centered perspective. The days were long and full, rewarding and challenging, comforting and alarming.

As we discussed the foundational principles of organizing during the week: power, relational meetings, asking for money, running actions, examining one’s own self-interest, I felt at home. I mean, I love this stuff. I’ve had some practice using these skills before! I was feeling pretty good about myself, nice and comfortable. But, as we were asked to consider how we might apply these skills in our congregations when we return home after the training, I felt a pretty pressing sense of fright arise. It went something along these lines:

I don’t have a home congregation! I’m new here! OMG, I’m so new here, how do I become un-new here? How do you even organize in a place that doesn’t trust you yet? And oh my word do I not want to be a pastor. That desire sits at a very solid, very heavy zero. But do I have to be a Rev. in order to organize within the structure of the church? What is my role in this church of ours, anyway? Do I even know anyone here? Who is God?

So, welcome to my brain during (and still sorta after) NEXT training. Things tend to amp up rather quickly! Now, of course, part of my feeling adrift was because the training was designed specifically for clergy people and my status as a lay person still new to her area and still working to solidify her church home made answering some of the questions as they were posed rather difficult. Even still, a lot of the above anxiety is founded in genuine curiosity about what my role and relationship with church will evolve to look like-- both personally and professionally. I know myself to be an organizer and I feel increasingly at home in that role. But what about my identity as a person of faith? Do I feel increasingly at home in that identity?

In summary, I suppose the big question I’m forever trying to answer is, “Why am I so committed to organizing within the context of church?” Full disclosure, sometimes I’m surprised at myself for so ardently committing to church. I mean, I don’t think it takes away from my credibility to own the fact that I’ve got lots (!) of questions about this ole’ church of ours. I’ve spent a fair amount of time disappointed with decisions the church has made and the way it’s elected to treat all types of hurting people. In my peak pastor’s kid angst days, I was mad at the church on a personal level-- I felt I’d been allowed a look behind the curtain and was not impressed with the way the structure of the church treated ministers and their families. And, yikes, do I even believe all of this bible stuff?

NEXT training made these questions more clear and tangible but not necessarily their complementary answers. Rude. So, honestly, that’s where I am right now. Lots of questions about why my organizer self can never quite escape church and how my community-organizer-self and my person-of-faith self inform one another.

Holy Spirit? Does she have something to do with this? Is this all her doing? Sneaky! Someone get me her number.

-Liv , Hands and Feet Fellow