I was going through some old boxes of my belongings, purging items that no longer were useful or held little meaning. Suddenly, I came upon a postcard I had saved from a couple who used to attend one of my non-denominational churches. I remembered fondly the times we had shared in fellowship. As I read the postcard, which was filled with love and genuine excitement for a new chapter in their lives, I was reminded of a time when such friendships seemed so solid. I briefly wondered what they were up to before moving on to my next task.
Not for the first time did I ponder the transient state of modern-day relationships. Of all the churches I have been a member of, and the various leadership positions I have held - no one continued their friendship with me after I left that church. From the Vineyard, I was "sent" to become a part of a church plant. Since it was in the same town, I still saw several members of the larger congregation when we'd visit each other's church. From the church plant, I moved to another state to attend a ministry school. Again, some kept in touch with me for a few months and then disappeared over time.
When I moved from North Carolina to my hometown, again, a few kept in touch with me but within months, were non-existent. Although I experienced disappointment, I reminded myself that church was a very focused community and if I was no longer part of that community, it only made sense for the relationship to end. But because I'm a sentimental sap, I admitted there was always a part of me that wanted relationships to last forever.
As I looked at the postcard today, it dawned on me that what I hungered for - and what I believe many people desire - is connection. I love that feeling of "belonging." I am currently experiencing an upheaval in my life as I realize family members do not remain with us forever and things are constantly changing. Uncles die. Cousins marry and move away. Sons and daughters develop their own circle of friends and bonds that seemed to have been set in stone are suddenly fluid and uncertain.
It is why friendships are even more precious to us as we age. We know that life becomes more uncertain as time takes its toll. Just today, my husband found out a good friend of his passed away in his sleep on December 26. Somewhere between Christmas Day and the day after, his soul left this world. He was only 50 years old.
He helped us move to our current home. He was quiet, a bit of a loner. Unmarried, he found his connection through visiting us on occasion with another one of my husband's high school friend. Of course when someone you know passes away, it causes you to re-examine things.
These thoughts led me to the Catholic Church and its wonderful liturgy. I also thought about our more progressive brethren who seek to "modernize" the Church by changing the liturgy. If I could gather the lot of them into a big room, I'd say this: "I have been to the mountain you seek and the other side. Guess what? It's really a brick wall."
I find it amazing that many Catholics are seeking what non-denominational churches have; but yet the non-denoms lack the connectivity that Catholics already possess.
Is there freedom in a non-denominational church's worship service? Yes. But is there connectivity? If so, what is one being connected to? For most non-denominational churches, each Sunday is a solo act of singing and then listening to someone talk. Within the Catholic Church, something more profound occurs. Those who attend Mass are in the same moment, connected with one another as they behold the consecration of the Eucharist. The sacraments of the Church also connect us, as does the teachings and the continuity of papal leadership.
There is much that connects us together as Catholics. Since I've been "on the other side," I can truthfully say that the connectivity I've sought for so many years in the non-denominational church, simply doesn't exist. I don't think it exists for anyone. If you attend a non-denom church and then move to another one, the general pattern of a worship service may remain but its ability to satisfy the yearning for connection is very shallow. However, within the Catholic Church, there are traditions that not only satisfy, but sustain one's soul. It is during trials and sufferings that the riches of these traditions shine the brightest. Faced with the fading glory of this world, a Catholic understands that far greater glories await through God's provision and protection.
The connection I am speaking of goes far beyond human friendship. It is a connection to God, who holds all things together. I believe that when we, as a community, connect to God through the liturgy of the Church, we are bonded together and strengthened as Christians. The liturgy of the Church is a gift to us on so many levels. I can go anywhere in the world, attend a Mass, and instantly feel connected to both my fellow Catholics and the history of my faith as a Christian. It is a consistent, dependable occurrence whereas within the non-denominational church, I rarely felt such continuity.
Today I praise God for the liturgy that has sustained the saints and now sustains me, who is seeking to become one. No matter what anyone says, no man can be an island for long. We need each other but truly, we need God even more. The Catholic liturgy gives us both.