I must admit that it has been very difficult for me to remain loyal to the Christian church these past years. Hardly a day goes by without more news about the evils of residential schools, racism, various forms of sexual abuse and sexism practiced particularly against women in our communities.
Why continue supporting an institution with such a bad track record and which many other thoughtful, decent human beings have decided, it seems, to leave?
After careful and prayerful thought, I have determined to write a short column on why I love the church even though it might seem quaint to some and a minority voice to many.
This writing has been inspired by a spiritual mentor of mine—Fr. Ron Rolheiser—a Canadian Roman Catholic priest and teacher who currently leads the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. This summer he published a column entitled “Why Stay in the Church?” and you may wish to read it as a complement to this column.
I have been a member of the church for almost 80 years and an ordained pastor for more than 50. You might say that I have “seen it all” during that time. I have watched many friends and colleagues give up on the church in anger and frustration. So why do I stay?
First, I was raised in a warm and supportive Christian family, even though some would suggest that it was a rather strict one. Even though my parents have died and my sibling has not followed a path they also set for her, I still retain strong ties to people among whom I was raised and am fortunate to get regular reminders of what is happening in that small southern Ontario town where I grew up. It is with much gratitude that I maintain these connections because they keep me connected to my roots.
Second, and early in my life, I made important ecumenical connections with Christians in other denominations here in Canada and internationally. I need to say that this was a lifesaver for me. Inter-church and interfaith ties helped to keep me focused on what was important, even when I did not find the support I needed from the church of my birth. I am proud to remain a pastor and to be reminded that I am. Had I not experienced the love and support of people outside of my original faith community, I would probably not be a Christian today.
Finally, with Rolheiser, I respond like Peter in the gospels, when Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to leave him: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) The church (for all its flaws) is still the place where I can continue to hear and share those words.
Not all who read these thoughts of mine will identify with my experience. Some may think me to be naïve or foolish. And yet, this is the bottom line of my Christian testimony. I did not choose to be born into a loving Christian family and community. In many ways, it was by chance that I have enjoyed the ecumenical connections that have nourished so much of my life.
The bottom line is this: I love the church. I hope that my life is an example of that commitment. I pray that there may be those who observe a good model in me and who want to become part of that special community too.