Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it’s a farewell to someone or something you love dearly. In my case, it was a whole church. For nearly two years, a body of 300 people, including two dedicated pastors and their wives, had loved me when I was broken, lonely, and not at all sure where God was leading me.
When I started attending, the church was only a couple of years old. It was growing rapidly, and I knew the reasons why after my first visit. The pastor was heartfelt and engaging with the good news about Jesus Christ; the congregation was warm and welcoming; the music was lively and full of the Lord’s presence. But the thing I noticed most could not be seen. This church didn’t have its own building or even the comforts you take for granted in many other churches. But this place had a heart I could feel from the moment I walked through the door.
The heart of the church comes through in its mission: “we are passionate about coming together to meet a Jesus who is radically committed to loving broken people, and who then equips us to share in the privilege of mending our broken world with him.”
A privilege? Growing up in a different kind of church, I never thought of worshiping or serving as a privilege. But here, that’s exactly what it was—a responsibility they took very seriously.
The Privilege of Truth
No one comes into church perfect and polished, deserving of God’s love. Indeed, I was far from it. I was in a sinful relationship, my work was my idol, and I frequently put myself and my comforts above others.
The church saw my discretions, and neither did they ignore them or punish me for them. Instead, they loved me well until I saw the error of my ways. They invited me in. They gave me resources. They spoke truth when I needed to hear it. They were there to help pick up the pieces when I had to deal with the consequences of my actions.
Essentially, they loved me in ways the world doesn’t know how to love. Love can be costly when we put ourselves on the line to speak truth to one another. But love does the right thing even if it may offend. I celebrate the power of God in loving me through the body of Christ, with a love full of grace when I needed it most.
The Privilege of Pursuit
I was also granted the privilege of being pursued to serve other women in the church. I saw in action what Jen Wilkin commended in her recent article “The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued.” She writes, “The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve. Because a culture of permission will not ensure complementarity functions as it should.”
In a healthy church, women feel comfortable stepping up to fill the inevitable gaps. By being asked to start a women’s ministry group and being encouraged to start a small group for women in transition, I was, in turn, able to pursue the women of the church in meaningful ways.
The Privilege of Community
As Paul writes, in Romans 12:5, “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” This church was a model of this verse in action. From the welcome card that gives the option to have coffee with the pastor, to the annual family retreat, community was built into the church’s DNA.
It emanated from the staff—from the pastors and their wives. They made an effort to get to know everyone in the church personally, even as it grew. Meals and events at their homes are among my fondest memories of church community.
While I certainly didn’t want to leave the best church I had ever known, the Lord had a different path for me. I struggled with the thought of finding a new church home. After all, experiencing something so wonderful is both a blessing and also a curse when it’s hard to replace.
My church family kept loving me well as I prepared for the next phase of my life. While my small group family gathered around me in prayer at my farewell gathering, one of the pastors shared a piece of advice I will not soon forget: “Don’t look for a church that’s exactly like this one because you won’t find it. Instead, bring this church wherever you go.”
He knew something I need to remember if I will ever be content with a new church experience. Instead of looking for what the church could offer me, I need to look for a church I could serve in the ways of love I learned through my last church.
While I will miss a lot of things—the coffee breaks during service to connect with friends, the personal communion messages delivered by the pastors to each person in the congregation, my small group and fellowship with women I had grown to love—I will forever cherish this experience and seek to bring that gift to others wherever I’m going next.
Thank you, All Souls Community Church in Rockland County, New York, for loving me as Jesus commands. May many more souls like mine—broken and in need of God’s grace—find your doorstep so that they may experience love in Christ beyond anything they can imagine.