When You Leave The Wilderness
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Eight years ago I started what y'all started 3 1/2 weeks ago. I started it with a video conference with the Rev. Debbie Phelps, the minister of Disciples Net. Here was her advice:
Eight years ago I told Debbie this was temporary. (Sound familiar?) I was going to start online and make a physical presence from the online presence.
On one side was the general church. "Don't we already have an online church?" They were talking about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Disciples Net was their single online church. That statement is insane to consider today. A church? How about 2000 plus churches?
It was a statement that came from fear. Those who are drawn to Fig Tree want nothing to do with Disciples Net, and I'm sure it goes the other way too. "Don't we already have an online church" is a statement of scarcity, which is a dangerous statement for God's people to make.
That's probably why almost all the physical support for Fig Tree came from outside the denomination. I was flat out told the churches had to care for themselves, so I wouldn't be getting help. Could you imagine where many of those churches would be today if they took Fig Tree seriously six years ago. Sadly, it's a story we'll never know.
On the other side was everything else. Every church is isolated in their protective bubbles. They haven't had to deal with people openly criticizing sermons, or questioning their minister's calling. I have. All the time. There are those who engage only for the opportunity to openly disagree with the content. There are others who just like to watch dumpster fires. This is the internet. If you are not prepared for dumpster fires, you are going to get burned. My very first thought when this all began was simply, "I wonder how they'll deal with the trolls."
I don't know if y'all got the memo, but the media hates us. All of us. They don't want to show people who are working to create community, protect those who are without, or are well educated. They want to show that church that is "covered in the blood." That means while I've been featured favorably in a few places over the past couple of years, I don't sell. So, for the most part I'm ignored for the stories of ignorance and stupidity.
Why did I stay?
For years I've prayed the prayer, "God, why am I doing this?" The lowest attended live-cast worships have always been Easter. That was my biggest hint that no one has seen this as real. On the days that count, people find the brick and mortar building. My value with other ministers was tied to whether I could help their brick and mortar churches. No joke, only two months ago I felt like the widow and her child. I had enough flour and oil to make our last meal. Then I realized, why am I spiritually dying surrounded by people who are going to ignore me while I die? The harder I pushed into the denomination, the worse Fig Tree did as a mission. Maybe we'd still die in the wilderness, but it was on my terms, and it was with people who saw each other, and one another's woundedness.
There are a growing number of people who have been deeply wounded by the church. Where do you think they've gone? To the place where the brick and mortar churches have ignored. I had this deep feeling that leaving the denomination I loved back when I did was when that action held power. It was an urgency to get to the wilderness first.
Then it all happened.
I thought it was what I wanted. But no one has seen the broken in the wilderness, because we are still all looking inward. Now I realize I'm a host to the displaced, while praying for those who are still silent and broken. While you are worried about that sweet Easter offering this Sunday, my thoughts are different.
The preteens and teens who are now forced to stay home in abusive homes.
The homeless that can't self-isolate.
Those who were broken by organized religion, and are triggered by your videos.
When y'all go home, I'll clean the mess, and continue. For you, it will become nice coffee table talk about those few months you tried out digital worship. I have something to ask of you: Remember and empathize.
There are people who were here before you were.
I felt like I was talking to brick walls before all these churches were thrown into the digital wilderness. It was somehow believed that digital church was just making a good recording of the 11am worship, and done. Quickly, ministers realized that wasn't true. It was a nice copy, but it wasn't digital worship. There's a different kind of intimacy to digital worship. A thousand people suddenly become a one-on-one connection. The space must be different. The way one talks must be different. I've seen ministers who flat out told me they didn't believe one could worship online, try now to worship online. Some are still trying and not believing they are actually finding God. Some are discovering the sacred in the online world.
There are people who have been in this world for years, searching out the sacred online. Remember these days. As you go back to your "normal," realize there are others who can't return to your world. They need this. They need more than carbon-copy church. They need worship.
Remember what you connected to while in this place of social isolation. Consider keeping space where those kinds of connections continue. Consider supporting this space, as it continues. That's why I'm still out here, and why I'll continue to be out here when it's done.