When my grandmother was fourteen years old, her father became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbiana, Ohio. That was in 1917. My grandmother stayed in that church for seventy-nine years. She was buried there in 1996 at the age of ninety-three. Her daughter (my aunt) was born into that same church, and still worships there 90 years later.
That’s a long life in one church!
My father had a different church experience. When I was in high school, he quit church. He never went back, and he never said why. I don’t know this to be true, but I like to think that he lost his faith in the church as an institution but not his faith in God or the gospel.
So, why go to church, when it would be so easy to point out its many faults and failures?
I go to St. Marks out of my own sense of need. The Renaissance scholar Erasmus put it this way: “I will put up with this church until it becomes a better church, and it must put up with me until I become a better Christian.”
I’m also challenged and encouraged by all the good I experience at St. Marks—couples working to hold their marriages together, parishioners working for the good of public schools, generosity to the poor, hospital visitation of the sick, efforts at building community in an individualistic society, adoption of orphans, outreach to victims of HIV and AIDS, care for unwed teenage mothers, building schools and hospitals in places that would otherwise never have them, and so on.
In her memoir Ordinary Time, Nancy Mairs writes that she moved beyond her lapsed Catholic faith and returned to church, even though she still had many questions, so that she could “prepare a space into which belief could flood.” I don’t wait for all my questions to be answered before I go to church. Sometimes, authentic faith results from rather than precedes going to church.
So, I’m very grateful for St. Marks. It has welcomed my imperfect self with my imperfect faith. I wonder if I’ll still be here when I’m 90?!