I'm thinking a lot lately about building real community in church, and also about the parts of ourselves that churches engage. I am part of a tradition that is often both intellect-oriented and action-oriented, but not necessarily relationship-oriented. I'm noticing this brick-and-mortar church weakness at the same time that I'm marvelling (more than ever!) and the depth of caring in our RevGal circle.

I'm not just worried about relationships with one another, though. I'm worried that we're very, very embarrassed and uncomfortable with the idea of having a relationship with God, and I can't quite figure out why. Sometimes I get the impression that we believe in God the same way we believe in calculus: we're willing to accept the theory, but we don't engage with it, and there's nothing personal about it.

I heard recently that the tiny church where I interned has been doing a really radical thing during Christian Education hour: people are sharing their own stories of faith. Yeah, I understand that's normal for lots of Christians. But for Piskies? I desperately wished I could have been there. Or that we could do something similar in my parish.

I think there are a lot of reasons we don't do things like that, but I worry that one of the biggest is a need for control: if I let you tell about your experience of God, you might share a theology different from mine. People might preach to one another, and the message would not be cohesive, it wouldn't be regulated, it might not be approved theology.

We're really shortchanging ourselves. I'm so encouraged by hearing where people have been, and where they notice God. It's heartbreaking to discourage that. We need these stories of the meandering paths through the desert. We need to know what the pillar of fire has looked like for others. And we need the intimacy with God and with each other that we find when we share these precious parts of our experience. I've loved offering Spiritual Direction, for this very reason. (I've been terrified of it for this reason, too: can I be tender enough with these vulnerable places?)

How do your churches foster intimacy, both with each other, and with God?


  1. your musings remind me of the book I just read by Anna Carter Florence, "Preaching As Testimony." It's true, we need to encourage each other. I don't know that my church does it so well either. you've been me a lot to think about.

  2. Rock on, Di! Your turn of phrase about God and Calculus is brilliant.
    a) This could be a thesis when you go back to school
    b) Search TEC's website for Groundwork (1), a Lenten resource from a few years ago that has a wonderful introduction by Suzy Miller about sharing our faith stories.
    c) I've never found a Piski church that does this successfully, for the reasons you state. I'd love to hear about successful Adult Ed programs.

  3. When I read this yesterday, I started to reply, but then I started to cry. Now I'm back. :)

    I was in an Episcopal church that did it successfully, St. Francis in College Station. It was as close to a community of Acts as I've ever seen. This was in the 90's.

    Unfortunately, the Bishop decided it wasn't growing fast enough (read = making money) so he removed the founding Vicar and brought in someone else (about whom I shall remain silent here).

    The "business" end of our church structure makes this very hard, as well as our traditional "don't touch me"-ness.

    I am hoping to institute the Harvest Unlimited program at my church this fall (I'm the Vestry outreach chair). We'll see if our people are ready to do this. It's a type of sharing that's unlike us in some ways. But other TEC churches in our diocese have used it successfully.

    I'm gonna cry again...in a good way. Thanks for asking this question.


  4. Diana, you must read "TELL IT LIKE IT IS, reclaiming the practice of testimony", by Lillian Daniels. I'm reading it right now and it's all about how an Episcopalian turned UCC minister got her New England church to start doing testimony. But she had to start by calling it Lenten Reflections so people wouldn't be scared off. Check it out!


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins