When anyone leaves the church—either for a short time or never to return again—it is not a good thing. Parishioners and clergy, alike, struggle with this unfortunate situation—it’s difficult to accept (not that it should ever be accepted). A little over a month ago, a couple around my age that had recently moved to town began worshipping with us. Along with being new to the area, they were also new to the Lutheran church and quite adolescent to the Christian faith. Despite all of this newness—and the fear and anxiety that usually accompanies it—they continued joining us. As I began talking with them, they both voiced interest in being baptized. I was so excited I felt like I was glowing like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai after having spoken with the Lord. From the way they talked, they felt affirmed by our congregational community to begin their new life in Christ here with and amongst us. So, I initiated an adult catechumenate class where we would talk casually, get to know each other, discuss Baptism and Holy Communion, and get them acquainted with the people of our congregation, the ministries of our church, and the traditions of our denomination. They seemed so excited about making this community their home as they sought to begin their faith journey. Then, suddenly, they abruptly stopped attending worship. I tried calling them to make sure everything was ok. No answer, nor response. Aware of my confusion and pain, my wife tried to reassure me: “Perhaps they’re out of town” and “Maybe they got busy.” As each day—and now weeks—went by I felt more and more like I had failed these two people who looked and sounded so eager to respond to the gift of faith given to them by the Holy Spirit, and to live in the fullness of God’s grace shown for each of them in the Crucified and Risen Christ. More than some selfish gain for the church, we were on the cusp of evangelizing to people who very much described themselves as being previously unchurched. It felt like I was responding, in a very real way, to Christ’s call to be “fishers of people” (Mk. 1:17). And yet, right before we could take the next step, it all slipped through my fingers like sand—the worst part being I had no idea why. The people of the congregation had been (from what I could see and hear) very warm and welcoming (while not too overwhelming) to this young couple. What had we (I) done wrong? Did I not move with enough eagerness to baptize them as soon as possible? Were they saying something under the surface that I was not paying attention to or could not hear? Did I say something that served as a stumbling block for them? I’ll be honest: this couple—and their lives of faith—have been weighing on my heart and haunting my dreams for the last couple weeks. Still very new to all of this—and the inevitable disappointments that can accompany ministry—I know this situation is bearing, perhaps, more weight than it should. Yet, I cannot help but wonder: “What if?” and “Why?” My hope—below my great despair—is that I didn’t, somehow, act with closed ears—missing an opportunity to “listen and understand” and participate in the Holy Spirit’s work of gathering all people into the one body of Christ. My prayer—continually in my heart and on my lips—is: Lord, calm my heart and help me to trust that you are working in this situation even when I am not involved and cannot see it. Continue to place on this couple’s hearts the gift of faith that they may know your love for them in the Crucified and Risen Christ. Amen.
I by no means have all the answers. As one who wrestles with his faith regularly, I bring with me tons of questions. I believe asking questions is a good and necessary part of our faith and life together. I also believe Christ calls us to question all those things that don't make sense. God has created us to think, to learn, and to grow. As I seek to question things I don't understand, may the Holy Spirit fill you also with a yearning to ask the tough questions in your life.