Earlier this week an unfortunate miscommunication with a life-long friend led to a hopeful and very productive conversation about the evolution of our friendship. We talked for a long while about how different our lives are today compared to the carefree, relatively unfettered existences we had when we first met as young girls in grade school, and the parallel lives we lived in junior high and high school. Now, amid very different spaces in life, our needs as individuals and our expectations for the friendship have changed. Consequently, we concluded that we need to negotiate new expectations for the friendship if it is going to remain fulfilling and sustainable.
This recent incident has me thinking about my relationship with the institutional church in terms of a long-standing friendship. I can pinpoint numerous times in my life when I came to the realization that I am bringing different needs, expectations, and priorities to my interactions with this entity. I have changed a lot since the friendship began with my parents’ introduction. Concomitantly, I have witnessed changes in the image and priorities of the institutional church as well. These big and small transformations between us continuously demand that I reconsider our relationship on new terms.
Sometimes I feel so betrayed, angered, and confused by the institution that I have to take time away from this old friend. I need room to breath, to gain perspective, and to remember what I loved about it in the first place. So far, I have agreed to remain friends as we sort out our differences. At other times, however, I am simply delighted by the ways that this old companion can still surprise me with its complex, thoughtful, challenging companionship. In these moments I can declare my devotion to this tradition with confidence, with the same loyalty I expressed with that BFF bracelet I sported as a kid.
I have many frustrated friends who move from congregation to congregation searching for the perfect church: one that will never let them down, never espouse disagreeable beliefs, one that does things the way he/she prefers. And I get it—I understand why a great church is important, and how our preferences matter in our relationship to God and the Christian community as a whole. But there is a balance here, it seems. As with friendships, we can go our whole lives searching for perfection in a church, and meanwhile, miss out on the good-but-imperfect offerings that surround us.
Perfection in friendship, and in a church, will simply never exist in this life. At the same time, we must figure out how much loyalty to this relationship will cost us. Have I lost myself in this relationship? As time goes on, I think I need to revisit this question. It is a difficult one to consider, but I think, for an old friendship, it’s worth it.
Jessica Coblentz is enjoying her last month at home in the Seattle area before heading off to Harvard Divinity School where she will begin a Master of Theological Studies degree in the fall. Follow her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.blogspot.com.