“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness … nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything is gonna be all right,’ but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.” –Victoria Safford
I’ve been thinking a lot about congregational membership—the process by which churches publicly claim some people and not others. My clergy peers have expressed dissatisfaction that churches separate members from non-members. “It’s not Christian,” I’m told.
Some days I align with these dissenting voices. After all, I agree that the church is too fluid to maintain clear boundaries and too egalitarian to privilege the few. By raising questions about membership my friends and I aren’t being disagreeable and anti-establishment; we simply want the church’s structure to reflect what we know to be true of God’s wide love and unbounded grace.
Then there are other days (like today).
I learned a new word in 2014: ghosting. I was first introduced to the term in an article entitled “Don’t Say Goodbye: Just Ghost” in which the author makes the case that people make leave-taking harder than it needs to be. Stevenson writes that “as [my birthday party] wore on, and friends fell by the wayside, each departure occasioned a small ritual. A pal would sidle up to whichever conversational circle I was in; edge closer and closer, so as to make herself increasingly conspicuous; and finally smile, apologetically, when the conversation halted so I could turn to her and say goodbye.”
It wasn’t that Stevenson didn’t appreciate these well-intentioned efforts; he did. But he pointed toward a better way:
Ghosting…refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells. One moment you’re at the bar, or the house party, or the Sunday morning wedding brunch. The next moment you’re gone. In the manner of a ghost. “Where’d he go?” your friends might wonder. But—and this is key—they probably won’t even notice that you’ve left.
It’s a genius strategy—one I hope to employ with more frequency in 2015 at college reunions and New Year’s Eve parties, potlucks and political rallies, street dances and wedding receptions. It’s also a strategy that congregational membership wisely seeks to curb. Because while ghosting can be life-giving in certain social situations, it’s deadly for the church.
When people go through the congregational membership process at Holy Trinity, we don’t require them to confess a creed, dress appropriately, pass a theological exam, sing on pitch, get a tattoo, become an usher, commit to a small group, or give money. We do, however, (usually over a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread) ask that they care for the community that gathers here and allow the community that gathers here to care for them. Intentional communication about our comings and goings makes this possible.
So ghost away in 2015. But try your best not to ghost at Holy Trinity; we’ll wonder where you’ve gone.