The church I attend in St. Louis, The Gathering UMC, has a six week commitment small group. Every week, those who attend learn about one of the foundational aspects of our church—such as community, service, prayer, etc—and discuss what each one means to us as followers of Christ. After the six classes, each person decides whether or not they are ready to make a formal commitment to The Gathering.
One doesn’t have to be an official member to attend the church, to take communion, to participate in small groups, but being a member of the church makes a statement that one supports the work they are doing and wants to be part of the life and vitality of the church.
When I first began attending this church last August, I thought briefly of joining the commitment class. I knew that the church was right for me and knew I would be attending for the rest of my college career. It seemed to be a good idea to learn more about the church and what it stands for.
However, as I thought about it, I realized that I would only be attending the church for two years, maximum, unless something led me to stay in St. Louis past my undergrad years. I didn’t really want to make a commitment if it didn’t mean something in the long term.
I see a commitment of any kind as a serious matter. If I say that I will be a part of something or that I will do something, I work hard to fulfill this promise. I am frustrated easily when people shrug off their responsibilities or choose one thing over another time and time again. Simply put, I don’t like when people are flaky.
This is not to say that I have never had to miss out on one thing because of a scheduling conflict, but in general I work to stay committed to what I say I will do. This is why I was hesitant to join the commitment small group. I didn’t want to just be part of the church for a couple years and then leave. I do attend the Gathering whenever I can and have joined a few different small groups. I’ve had coffee with the pastor and try to get to know the people I see each week. I feel that in my own way I have made a commitment, but to do so formally would open myself up to disappointment when I find I must leave this town.
This same situation came up in high school as well. My friend first introduced me to United Memorial Christian Church when I was in seventh grade. At that time I was still Catholic and still attended weekly Mass. After ninth grade I decided that my home church was no long right for me, and essentially stopped being Catholic to commit myself to UMCC.
I was really involved there with the youth group and other activities. A few times during my sophomore and junior year, I thought about making a formal commitment. But here again I thought a few years toward the future and knew that I would not be attending college in a place that would allow me to maintain consistent membership at that church.
I don’t really know where the next few years are going to take me, but I look forward to being able to commit to a place, to saying “This is my church. This is my home.” I will so enjoy having that place where I know I belong, where I know I can make a difference, and where I know I will grow immeasurably.
In some ways, thinking about things on such a temporary level has been difficult, but in many ways I think that it has helped me to realize how temporary things in life are and how important it is to focus on what I have now.
Although I am not a member of The Gathering, I have found so much joy and hope there. I have been challenged and encouraged, mystified and uplifted, grounded and elevated. My membership isn’t official, but my participation is. That, I think, is most important.
Today I turn around
Stop running away from Him.
Today I listen
And run toward.