membership – noun | mem·ber·ship | \ˈmem-bər-ˌship\ noun
: the state of belonging to or being a part of a group or an organization
: the state of being a member
: all the people or things that belong to or are part of an organization or a group
I’m not much of a joiner, anymore.
I used to be. When I was in high school, I belonged to all the clubs, joined all the teams, volunteered for all the projects. I did the same to a lesser degree in college, but still, I liked to be involved. After college, I found myself again with the raised hand, the fully inked day planner, and the lengthy and growing resume.
But then, one after another, things changed. Life took on a different kind of fullness. I stopped thinking about my resume. And suffering revealed the rat race to be a lethal kind of numbing agent that might rob me of purpose if I didn’t drop out.
If you based my resume on the past 12 years, you’d see one job. And then none (well, self-employed). I haven’t belonged to any clubs or groups, save the ones I created with friends. I haven’t won any awards, though I’ve amassed a few publishing credits. And the list contains just two memberships: College Park Church, where I worshiped most weeks until 2013, and now St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, where I worship with my family and was received into membership on Sunday.
Church membership is a strange concept, if you ask me. Technically, all Jesus believers belong to what’s known as the “invisible church,” a membership into a metaphor, Christ’s body, and a fellowship of suffering and hope. We are joined together to each other by being joined together with Christ. We are called to serve each other and honor each other and love each other. We are told to pray and sing and eat together.
Instead, we split hairs and divide and separate. We create denominations and then we leave denominations. We ask all the Jesus people—or anyone who associates with us—to choose sides. Then we get together each week with a lot of other people who look and act a lot like we do.
But there’s more to church membership than all the strange parts I just mentioned. Like on Sunday when I stood up before the congregation of St. Matthew and confirmed vows, answering “I do” and “I will” just like when I got married. Then there was the part where the people of the church responded back to me with vows of their own. While they were reciting them together, I looked out and saw the faces of people I know and love, the people who have reached out to me since I moved to Frankfort, friends who’ve witnessed the dramatic life changes I experienced all at once. These are the people I laugh with now and grieve with. I serve by their sides and am served by them. It felt like I was a member of them already, but it means even more to say it out loud and to hear them say it back.
We belong to each other now.
“We Methodists like to keep files on everyone,” Pastor Jake often says. And I would laugh and think it was a swell joke. But it turns out that they do actually keep a file on each member of the church. My file got started a little early since I married a church member. I don’t know what all is in my file, but based on how well I’ve been received, I’d say they just keep the good stuff—or at least mostly the good stuff.
The difficult part of my new membership is that I was received into the church on the same day Pastor Jake was retiring. He won’t take our files with him when he goes, but I’m holding on to a copy of his file for myself, that is the file I’ve compiled in the two and a half years I’ve known him. And it’s loaded with good stuff: his kindness on my wedding day, his concern when my stepdad died, his encouragement when my book was published, and his surprise when I brought him back a bag of San Antonio blend coffee on one of my trips to Texas. And there’s so much more in the file: his sermons, his jokes, his ubiquitous presence at all things St. Matthew, his Facebook photos of his Friday lunches, the story of his speeding ticket, and of course, his infectious smile and laugh!
The Bible tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs, but I think love does keep a record of rights. In fact, it rejoices in them. Becoming a member of St. Matthew is basically a promise that I’ll keep a record of rights on every person I meet there. And that file will grow so large there will be no room to write down the occasional wrongs.
I’m not much of a joiner anymore, but I don’t have to be. I already belong.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.