I was meeting with a small group of adults who were dreaming about, and hoping for the future of adult faith formation in our congregation. What did we want faith formation to look like? What did we hope to accomplish in the life of adults?
It is called "strategic planning", but I also call it hoping. I call it sharing stories. We started by sharing stories of moments of faith formation in our lives, things that picqued our curiosity, made us grow. One person shared the importance of witnessing an adult baptism. Another person told about shepherding youth through writing faith statements, and how that helped her consider how she would speak of her own faith. Another person shared faith retreat weekends, and how that intentional time together helped their whole family.
There were just seven of us around the table. We had considered the purpose and outcomes we desired, and now we were honing in on some values that were important to us. One value came up again and again, that we want to be a safe place where people can bring their questions, the questions and doubts of faith. We don't want faith formation simply to be a place where people find answers, but a place where people wrestle, can speak up about the things they don't know, the things they might never know. They were going beyond information, venturing forth to the deeper waters of formation.
But at the same time were were passionate, we realized that we were stuck.
Someone shared about his daughter's experience in a class at college, where they discussed deep issues of faith and community: abortion, racism, poverty, and many other areas where faith and life meet. He said that these conversations were transforming to his daughter's faith. And someone else said that we should be able to talk about these things in church. The church is a sanctuary, that is, a safe place, where we can bring our true selves and be assured of God's grace and forgiveness.
There was a deep deep pause. The word "should" hung in the air, as we realized the gulf between our ideals and where we are. And we realized that one of our first tasks, if we want to become a community safe for questions, was to inch along toward becoming that place that we desire to be: a sanctuary, a safe place for questions, for the doubters and believers.
How do we make it so?
I think we can only do this by practicing, and that is what makes it so hard, because we will make mistakes, and there will be some people who are too wounded to try. We can only do this by practicing, by beginning to have the conversations, practicing grace with one another. I think there are ways we can lay some ground rules as we begin, and hope that people trust enough to engage with us. We can lay some ground rules about how we listen, and how we receive each other's stories, about not having to agree with one another to listen.
And then we need to learn to practice forgiveness, which is a part of trust.
It is a great vision and goal that we have identified: to be a safe place for questions. We will never fully accomplish it, in this life. But I like to think that when we stand before the throne of the Lamb, we will stand there with the choirs and the feast prepared, and even our questions will find a home.