By Rev. Linda Thomson
Congregational Developmental Staff – Central & Eastern Regions
I don’t know about you, but when I first became involved, as an adult, in congregational life, I thought, “Well this is going to be easy. Good people, good intentions, good principles; What could go wrong”. It took about 3 seconds into my term as a member of the Board of the congregation before I learned that the answer to the question was, “A lot actually.” I learned, quickly, that congregations are complex, that leadership in them is ‘challenging’ and that there are days, oh baby, there are days! I suspect that many who have become involved in large or small ways in congregational life and leadership are reading this with heads nodding, fists pumping and hearts pounding. Because it is true. Congregational life isn’t always easy. I, in my youthful naiveté, thought it would be. I was surprised and I was, at times, shocked. Good principles and good people are not some preventative wonder. Conflict and disagreement find us and sometimes we find them.
Has your heart been broken? Mine has been. It has been broken when I felt that people had been mean, when I’ve been buffeted by the winds of hurtful rumour, when information has been withheld, and when I’ve found myself, caught up in the moment, being less than the person I am capable of being. There have been times when I’ve wondered why I bothered. Surely, I’ve mused, there are other things I could do with my time and energy. It is true. I could have and still could do other things. But, when I’ve contemplated walking away I have always concluded, “I don’t want to. This matters too much to me. This matters too much to others. This matters too much to the world.” And so I stay. I stay in spite of the frustrations, in spite of the heartache, in spite of the challenges and I stay too because of the imperfections. Life is not perfect and people are not perfect. I learned that lesson a long time ago. So how then can I expect the church to be perfect? And how could I possibly hope to bring myself, warts, foibles and outright faults and all to a perfect church?
Peter Fleck, in his book, Blessings of Imperfection wrote about the liberal church, saying we want and need the church because it is a place that, in spite of and because of its imperfections, teaches us that we can love beyond differences, that we can accept one another’s imperfections and that we can forgive and be forgiven. I have found, in our UU communities how powerful this is. The imperfect church has been the laboratory for my growth and development as an imperfect person. It has taught me that it is possible to strive, to care for and to engage with the world; even when I’m still learning, still growing, and still so, so aware of my own faults and flaws. The imperfect church has taught me about forgiveness and grace and has helped me understand what a gift that is, not only for me, but for others who struggle to find meaning in an imperfect world. Our liberal tradition isn’t big on talk about sin and salvation. But I know myself to be, as I believe we all are, deeply flawed. I also know myself, and each of you, to be a wonder, a great gift. In the church I am given the opportunity to hold those tensions. I am given the opportunity to be with others who travel this bumpy road. I am held accountable and I am affirmed. So yes, my heart has been broken. Hallelujah! My broken heart is softer, more forgiving and more open to wonder. My broken heart sees the pain and wonder in the world. My broken heart knows my church to be a place that is more than ok with my humanity. And it invites me, again and again, into the work of being human, into the work of the world. I know that when we can do this together, inside the vessel of the imperfect heart-breaking human community, we can find the strength and resolve to keep on loving each other and the world. Yes, even when my heart is breaking, I love our faith tradition. It asks me to keep trying, to keep learning and to keep saying ‘yes’.