Natalia Terfa: An Open Letter to Those Who Haven't Come Back to Church
Non-church-goers — hi.
I know you're there.
I know there are a lot of you.
Or at least, there are a lot more of you than you've been made to believe.
You haven't been back to church since, oh, March 2020.
Maybe you have watched every online service or not a single one, or somewhere in between.
No matter what, I want you to know I see you.
I want you to know that I get how hard this stage of your faith life is.
How deciding to come back to church inside of the building on a Sunday at a specific time and in person, or not, feels a lot more complicated than you ever anticipated it would be almost two years ago. I know how some of our pandemic life felt like a reset — a breath even — and in that time you were able to look at the parts of your life and reevaluate anything that felt like a "had to."
I get that when you really thought about it, church was one of those things.
Maybe you weren't sure why you were going, or if it was something you even wanted to do in the first place, but week after week you found yourself getting to church on Sunday morning.
And then you discovered that not going felt better than going on most Sundays.
You discovered a love of easy Sundays without getting ready or leaving your house.
You learned that a slow and steady walk in that wild area near your house felt more like church than trying to wrangle a kid or your own attention through a sermon.
You found that what you gained somehow had more meaning than anything you lost.
So you haven't come back.
And there might not even be a "yet" on the end of that sentence.
You haven't come back, and I know that you might not ever come back.
If that's you, I hope you'll hear and trust my next words to you: Choosing to not attend in-person church, or attend any church at all, doesn't mean you don't believe in God, or that your faith is somehow lacking.
It's just not true, even if you've been told it is by someone else.
I know there are a lot of reasons you may have decided to stay away, and I hope you hear me when I say that each and every one of them is valid.
I get that maybe you aren't sure what you believe anymore, but whatever it is certainly doesn't look like what it used to look like, and you know you won't find it going back to the way things were.
I understand that you might not feel like it's safe to gather yet, for you or for someone you love, and you don't trust that the people gathering will make decisions based on your safety.
I get that you don't want to come back yet and that it feels like the church is moving on without you, that you are being left behind and left out.
Valid. All of this is valid.
And I get it.
I get all of it, because I feel it too.
I too, feel anxious about big groups of people.
I feel unsure about what I believe anymore, or if I even believe at all.
I don't know if I trust my neighbor to look out for me.
I am so tired and want a break.
I know, I know, pastors aren't supposed to feel this way.
Or if we do we certainly aren't supposed to say it out loud.
We're supposed to model faith without fear and confident leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges.
But I can't. I feel all the things you are feeling too.
And I want you to know that you are not alone.
I want you to know you're not the only one feeling this way. And more than anything, I want you to know that I meant it when I told you that church was always more than a building.
I meant it when I told you the church was the people, the relationships, the wondering together about God and faith and life.
So too, I mean it when I say you don't have to come back to church if you don't want to.
If you can't, won't, or aren't sure yet, it's ok.
God has always and will continue to meet you where you are.
Natalia is a Lutheran pastor and author who lives in Minneapolis with her hubby, kiddo, and kitty babies. She loves to bake, to read, practice yoga, and find nature adventures. She is passionate about the church of the future, one with no boundaries and filled to the brim with love and grace and laughter and snark and a lot of fellow “not that kind of Christians.”
Natalia co-hosts Cafeteria Christian, a podcast for people who love Jesus but aren’t so sure about his followers.
Used with permission. Originally posted on Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, MN.
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