Rev. Melissa Cooper

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The Church that Could Be, Pt. 1: Returning to Call

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As we enter a new year, many of us take this opportunity to re-evaluate or re-center our lives and our ministries. Ministry leaders, I want to challenge you to take this opportunity seriously. As our churches move into this new era of what church is being and becoming, it's important that we don't get so lost in the day to day struggles that we forget to dream. 

Over the next few days, I want to invite you to look at your church. To look at where it has come from, to look at where it is now, and, most importantly, to dream about what it could be

I have to tell you, the last few years of my life have been tough. You’d think that when I start with that, that I’m going to tell you stories about all the tough times I’ve faced over the last few years, but I’m not. 

I wish I was going to share with you more about those tough times, but those stories won’t be told for many years, when there’s been enough time and enough emotional memory loss for them to be enlightening and not exploitive. And really, it’s OK - I’m not looking for sympathy either. I still have a good life, even with tough stuff intermingled.

But really, the reason I tell you that the last few years have been tough is to tell you what I find myself doing when I encounter parts of my life that are challenging, and to offer this to you, and to whatever community you find yourself in, because in community, there’s always someone facing something tough, and at times, the community itself will face such things. 

The most significant thing I do, when it gets really hard, when things look really rough, when I go to a place of anger or despair or hopelessness - when that begins to happen, I return to my call. 

Now if the word “call” doesn't connect with you, or you think, “Oh, that’s just for pastors,” I have to disagree. One of the most wonderful things about connecting with the divine in a personal and communal way is that I know that God is calling each of us, and God is calling us collectively. 

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Calls are experienced along a broad range, too - it’s not always a huge, booming voice from the sky (I know a few people who have actually had such an experience … but only a few) … so it’s very seldom a huge, booming voice from the sky.

And sometimes, a call can be for a time - to be called to meet someone in a specific time in their life, or for a particular instance. And sometimes, a call can be on a macro level, a call to a vocation, or a life devoted to a cause or ministry. 

The question is never if you are called, but how you are called. God is always calling us to participate in God’s work in the world. I find that to be one of the most exciting truths in my life. 

Discovering my own call has been a lifelong process - I had a stint where my call seemed to be in journalism, and I worked in newspapers and media. (I cannot tell you how thrilled I have been in the last couple of years that I am NO longer called to the field of journalism.)

There was a point at which God revealed to me - actually through two middle school girls - that my call was specifically to the church.

Most of the time, people think that being called to ministry is simple - you follow the ordination process, the steps are clear, and then you love people and create meaningful spiritual space for them. And many days, it does look like that. 

At the same time, working for the church can be a constant act of cognitive dissonance … the thing you believe in and support is also, at times, the thing that goes against the thing you believe in and support. 

There’s a quote often attributed to St. Augustine, but more accurately may be Dorothy Day. “The church is a whore, but she’s your mother.” 

Day’s direct quote is this: “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

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This fact, and a call to love and work within the church, create a couple of possible roads, both legitimate, and both potentially productive. One road, which many of my friends have taken, is to take the cynical and pessimistic route and turn away from the church, rejecting its hypocrisy outright, and speaking from outside the church about the harm the church has done. I have all the respect in the world for this approach, and some days I envy it.

I, however, have been called to take a different road. It’s not a higher or more admirable road, just a different one. My call has developed significantly over the last decade, as any call does, and as I’ve listened, I’ve realized that my call is to still stand alongside and within the church. 

And while much of my work in the church is looking back, and examining our history to see what WAS; and while it’s also looking at research and statistics and trends to see what IS; at my core, my calling is about looking forward, and helping remind the church what COULD BE. 

I'll continue to explore this idea in Wednesday's post, so stay tuned!

Be sure you're subscribed for updates to ensure you don't miss future installments! This series is adapted from a sermon originally preached in May 2017 at Collective in DeLand, FL. 

Melissa CooperComment