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Sunday, August 25th, will be Imani’s annual Family and Friends Day. As it approaches, I want to talk about a specific concern that has been in my heart for a while. And let me say that, though I will only speak for myself, I have had conversations with the Board of Directors and with others which assure me that my feelings are shared by others at Imani.
Many wonderful people have passed through Imani in its 15-year history. By “passed through,” I mean they are no longer here. Some moved away. Some were divinely led to other places to fulfill their ministry destinies. We miss those folks and would love to have them come back to visit on the 25th, if they can.
… There’s another group that I want to reach out to today… I fully and completely relate to where you are. An unfortunate series of events … led to my leaving a church, years ago, under circumstances that were excruciatingly painful for me and for all concerned.
But there’s another group that I want to reach out to today. That group is those former members and attendees who left their church under difficult circumstances; those who left with hurt and/or hard feelings toward the church, or toward particular people in it. I’ve been told that there are quite a few people who are still in the Triangle area - some of whom I have known as friends - who are currently disconnected from church community because something went wrong, they were deeply hurt or disillusioned as a result, and they stopped going to church anywhere. Some did try to find new church homes, but were unsuccessful in finding a place that their heart could embrace as home. So they do without the unique - and, yes, sometimes challenging - dimension of life that is experienced as an engaged member of a church.
First, let me say I fully and completely relate to where you are. You won’t hear me speak of this often, or in any detail, because all needed reconciliations happened years ago and I will not stir up old “stuff.” I just need to let you know that an unfortunate series of events (for which I accept full responsibility for my part) led to my leaving a church, years ago, under circumstances that were excruciatingly painful for me and for all concerned. For about a year after that, I didn’t attend any church. I visited a few, but didn’t find the right “fit” for me and I gave up and just stopped going to church. My experience, during that time, was that I could go on with my life. I worked. I took care of my children. I did everything I needed to do; in short, I functioned well. I prayed and I learned what I believe to this day - you don’t have to go to church to have an active relationship with God.
But there was a great big hole in my life and a constant, nagging pain that turned into a sharp pain on most Sundays. I missed church. I missed it more than I ever could have imagined missing it. I missed my friends there. I missed the sense of belonging I had experienced there. I missed the experience of “touching and agreeing” with other worshipers as we worshiped together; and experienced those special ways that the Holy Spirit of God moves through a group of people gathered in God’s name to worship God. I missed the spiritual growth I was experiencing there. Leaving the church had interrupted those things that God was calling me into; things that could only be nurtured and developed in community because ministering and being ministered to both require connection with others. There are some experiences of God that are not solitary experiences. There are ways that Spirit manifests God’s presence among and between people that can’t be experienced alone. Say what you will, with all of its ups and downs and human failings - there simply is no place quite like church. And I missed it immensely.
I promise you, this is an absolutely true story: One Sunday afternoon, I was riding around in my car, and I prayed out loud and said, “Lord, please, I need a church home.” And the Spirit immediately spoke through my thoughts and said, “You could go to St. John’s.” Now, I had visited St. John’s, once, several years before that day and - with no offense intended - I didn’t get the sense that it was a good “fit” for me back then. So my first impulse was to completely reject that thought. But it wasn’t just a thought; it was Spirit speaking to me, so it persisted. “You could go to St. John’s.” So I went that evening and I found that the evening service was very different from the morning service (which I later came to love as well) and I knew, that very same night, that I had found my new church home in a place I had already been!
Spirit-driven churches, like the Spirit-filled human beings that populate them - change, evolve, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The church is not merely an organization; it is a living organism.
See here’s the thing - Spirit-driven churches, like the Spirit-filled human beings that populate them - change, evolve, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We are not static. The church is not merely an organization; it is a living organism. So, if you stay away from any church for a while, the church you left is unlikely to be the exact same church you would come back to. For that matter, your presence there changes it to some degree. That’s how synergy works.
So here’s the point of all of this: Imani is in a period of transition. You can be part of the change. You can help shape our future. If you have ever been a member, friend, or regular attendee at Imani, and if you have not found a new church home since you left, we want you back. If you ever think of Imani and miss the people with whom you had connected here, we want you back. If you left because something or someone here hurt you, PLEASE FORGIVE US, and come back. You will find us open to reconciliation. I, personally, offer you my services to facilitate any conversation you may need to have with any current member(s) to close out the old and make room for the new things God will do.
Believe me when I tell you - no matter how bad your reason for leaving seemed, reconciliation can happen. Reconciliation is one of God’s specialties. I know, because the church I referred to earlier - the one that I left with a broken heart - was Imani. And look where I am today! Pastor Wanda is a dear friend and supportive colleague. With her blessing, I have the huge honor of following in her footsteps as pastor of the church she founded. It is a beautiful illustration of God’s will and power to heal us, to reconcile us to God, to God’s church, and to each other. It can happen. It does happen. All it requires is a willing heart and a first step. Coming out for Friends and Family Day might be that first step. It won’t constitute a commitment of any kind. You’re just coming because of the occasion, to say “hey” to some folks you haven’t seen in a while, and to chow down at the cook-out after worship. I worshiped here with many of you, back in the day, and I would love to see you again.
Come. Be reconciled with God, with church, with your siblings-in-Christ. Don’t allow a bad experience in any church to keep you away from every church. Come home. The door will always be open here.