Growing up I was always in church. Not only were we always at church, but my parents were always in the thick of whatever lay ministry was available, and eager to prove themselves to be considered as lead pastor material until they were finally given the opportunity shortly after I moved out and got married. As a devoted Christ follower I have always known the place I needed to be in was with a solid, Bible teaching and believing church come Sunday morning. My expectation was that church would always be an integral part of my family’s life. In fact, when we were expecting our first child my husband and I were worship leaders at my parent’s church. But then the world sort of shifted. The church which had never been anything close to thriving went from a fellowship of five families, through the death of one member, and the moving away of another family, dwindled down to three families, all of which were related to my parents, and it was no longer worth the blood sweat and tears of my dad’s efforts to lead while working full time as a school custodian to keep trying to make it work. The decision was made and the church disbanded just after our son was born.
We struggled to find our selves a place to be a part of again, and worked with another group trying to prove our worth to another pastor, who offered to use us and then put us aside. So we struggled to find our footing and raise our son, and then our son’s, and we moved away to find a better source of income. We would hardly be the first to regret such a move but that is another story. The first thing we did when we moved was to try to find a church home in a place that was full of churches but had only one church of the same type we had been a part of, some twenty miles away and our car was dead. Still, for a while we got rides and tried to make the tenuous connection we had flourish while working opposing shifts full time to keep up with the bills. God in his mercy moved us to a better place in another city, and we struggled again to find a church home. This time though, we discovered that something was not right with our youngest who was too old for nursery but was not functional enough for age appropriate classes and stood in the toilet when they agreed to let him stay in nursery. We were struggling as a couple and struggling to raise our boys and struggling to figure out how to be a family when we were so broken and without Godly mentors to help us. For the first time in my life, we were unchurched.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, unchurched is a term that is used in ministry circles to refer to people who are out of their place- they are technically Christians, but the connotation is that they are rebellious or back-slidden, and who are a target group for church outreaches. They are not seekers- people who don’t know Christ but who are wanting to find out more about God and come into church- but again I digress- we are not talking about what church linguistics, but about my life.
Every conversation with my mother was the same thing, are you doing to church? Guilty and sheepish I would try again to bolster my courage and try to figure out how to make my child acceptable, and make my husband want to go to church, even though he wasn’t sure church was where he wanted to be at the time.
A year or two later, we moved again and started the process again. Easter Sunday my parents came up and we took my young son’s to a local church. The older boy did great, the younger boy well.. the children’s church worker told me point blank- if you want to bring him again, you will have to come and sit with him in children’s church. So there it was. By then we knew he was severely autistic and even though he went to school and had people working with him, he could not manage a regular classroom setting and follow directions. I remembered then the reading I had done as part of the ministry team I was on that was church lawyers explaining how to protect a ministry from being sued by parents- the big news was pedophiles in positions of trust- and churches needed to protect themselves by doing background checks on all volunteers and making sure that no one volunteer was ever alone with any one child ever. So my son who needed a person to be a one – on – one helper was out of luck.
From that experience on I went to church. I talked to children’s pastors. I tried to figure out a situation where I could bring an unpredictable kid with some pretty intense behaviors including but not limited to pinching and howling and bolting out of a room or destroying stuff if he wasn’t allowed to do whatever else he pleased. Now no one ever said they didn’t want us to come to church, but there was never a solution to how to take my growing family which eventually ended up with two severely autistic kiddos to church and be a part of things. That was on us. We had to sort it. And literally for years it has been the same thing. I have gone to church, sometimes taking one of the boys with me, but more often than not leaving them at home under the supervision of my husband who loves them, and loves God and wants us to all “as many as we can figure out how to” go to church, but again.. how?
I thank God that we live in a time when I can log into a church service that is going on and participate long distance, but it isn’t the same as being in church.
I am frustrated because I can’t figure out how to make us unchurched. Maybe what we are is shut ins- again another category created by church leaders somewhere to describe church members who are too ill or physically frail to attend church any more. They used to warrant special pastoral care, but then who wouldn’t want to go visit a bitty mother or father in the faith who ooze with faith and dignity and who in spite of their frailty are strong and encourage those who visit them. I may have strength to offer but dignity can go out the window at any moment here- its part of raising these young men- and I suppose that is my quandary.
My young children who couldn’t sit still and listen, never got the love of Jesus in Sunday School. My one’s who could sit still never got to make friends and go to camp because we were never able to be a part of a body enough to make sure they were always part of what was going on. My sons love God, but they are not churched. My oldest is almost 23 now and he hasn’t been to church in years. My next church capable son has been to church less than a handful of times in the past three years. My husband has been about the same amount of times. I was going regularly, I was even serving monthly, but my family? We are a Christian family, who love God who want to honor him and serve him, and as a couple we are studying Theology together to prepare us for ministry and yet- and yet- we are for all intents and purposes in the bean counters charts- unchurched.
I am uncomfortable with my comfort with going to church myself. I have lots of people from church that I call friends- facebook friends- but no one I interact with outside of church. I am bumping into this notion that something is very wrong with how this is playing out, but I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to fix my sons. All I can see is what I can’t do, and how they have acted every time I have tried to take them to church to be ministered to. And.. and.. there is so much in my heart to say and so many broken dreams I could express but lingering here is painful,and grief guts hope and undermines faith so I will cut this short. I will only say- God my God- how do I raise my children in the way they should go if I can’t find it myself?