Mark Swallow blogs at The Swallow’s Nest. Next week we will hear from Kevin Sweeney. Today’s post is a powerful reflection, if not grief, about church by one who loves the church and seeks for conversation. Mark Swallow is from the States (Boston) has now lived in Hong Kong for 10 years with his wife Ling. He has been a business person and served on a pastoral staff team at an English speaking church in Hong Kong. How do we re-engage in church?
Lover Lay Down
There are two churches I have loved in my life: one in downtown Boston
Massachusetts and the other in the heart of Hong Kong, China. I have
lived my life thus far in these two places, Boston and Hong Kong, and
I’ve only ever been a part of these two communities of believers. The
problem, a real gut-wrenching dilemma to be truthful, is that I’ve had
to lay down both loves and I now feel like a Christian in exile. I laid
them down not because of anything they did wrong or I did wrong (sin is
truly not lurking behind this abandonment), but because I felt that I
had given these churches everything I had to give and these love
affairs drained me of something more valuable: my passion for Christ.
I am a person who has served the church as both a pastor and lay member who subtly began to love the church even more than her head: Christ. Thirty years of this love-in-action has left me with three main weaknesses. First, I am weary. Tired of endless activity, tired of facilitating conflict resolution with brothers and sisters mad at one another, and tired of urging Christians to pursue acting justly and with mercy outside the walls of these houses of worship. Second, I am isolated. Having majored on nurturing friendships with Christians and now spending a lot more of my time in the marketplace, the neighborhood, and the local pub I wonder who really knows me anymore. Third, I am wondering how I can re-engage the church healthily in the near future.
I believe deeply in the Church of Jesus Christ. This is creedal for me. And I am not suggesting that I will be able to easily pursue pressing onto maturity in our Master on my own – a lonely sojourn without the Word and sacrament of a local community of believers – but here is my question: how do I (or others out there who feel similarly) re-engage a church well? How do we do this in ways that honor the seriousness the Gospel gives to a personal, yet communal, encounter with the living Lord?
I submit this to you cognizant that there are some “obvious answers” which I am aware of. But I am looking for something less obvious and more meaningful. I’d like to hear from others who may have felt, at some point in their journey, like a believer in exile.