Friday, March 12, 2010
The Wanderlust that Is Within
I can think of several dozen families who ended up dropping out of parish life for this reason. They were by all accounts well assimilated. They were in church regularly -- generally every week. They were active in Bible study. They participated in the fellowship events of the congregation. Some of them sang in the choir or served in other areas. They had many and, in most cases, very deep friendships with people in the parish.
More than this, they spoke of their "not feeling at home" or not feeling right in the parish as a painful thing to admit. It is as if they wish they could find some way to deal with this feeling without leaving. In some cases they shed tears about this dilemma and about their decision to leave.
A few of these were what might be called high maintenance people -- people who asked for and expected a degree of attention or stroking from the congregation but the vast majority were not. They were your ordinary faithful members who showed up on Sunday morning, for Bible study, and connected in many different ways to the life and work of the congregation. Some of these lived on the fringes of the parish's geographic borders and others lived just down the road from the church building.
This was not a doctrinal issue -- they were fully conversant with Lutheran doctrine and were not leaving for another confession -- nor did they leave to go to another church. That is not to say that some of them did find another church home, they did, but others did not attend anywhere for a long time. It was not personal with me as Pastor. They were and remained friends even after they had left but, of course, a more distant friendship since our paths did not cross as frequently. They made a big point of thanking me for my ministry to them (in some cases through death or other difficulty) and of expressing great appreciation for my role as Pastor. Although there are some cynics out there who will dispute this and tell me it was personal but they did not want to tell me, I think they were earnest and honest and I am taking them at their word.
Over the years about half or so eventually came back to their old congregation as if whatever it was that had made them leave was now gone. Sometimes this happened while I was still the Pastor and in a few cases it happened after I had left the congregation to accept another call. In one case, the person made a point of telling me that although they were glad to be "back home" they wished that I was still there as their Pastor.
So what of this wanderlust? I have no answers. Do you?
I am left with the conclusion that this wander lust that left them unsettled in their home and eventually led them to leave was internal and not external. If that is true, it makes it even more difficult to deal with and to respond to. I am no psychologist who can figure out what angst or unsettledness is there that would erode their place and connection to the congregation. But if this is indeed the issue, I would invite anyone with more armchair therapy experience than I have to clue me in on what to look for and how to respond.
There is a deep ache within me, and I would presume every Pastor, when these things happen... for unlike the people who see only empty pews, a Pastor sees the images of those who should be there even when they are not... a haunting image for any Pastor who has a heart for his people....