Hoping for rain?

Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it don’t.

It was the middle of a blistering southwest July and we had been driving most of the morning and still hadn’t reached the end of his ranch. We stopped every now and then Jim (his real name) would bail out some hay and the cows would come running. Then he threw his pitchfork into the back of the truck and spent a minute staring up at the sky hoping to find even the slightest indication of rain. In this part of New Mexico rain is holy. Green things sprout and that means Jim doesn’t have to buy hay and that means the ranch might make a profit this year. But it hardly ever rains.

Ranching is an endless loop of backbreaking, dangerous work. You can do your best everyday but you and your family never feel safe because ultimately, survival is out of your hands. You can’t make it rain. This creates a deep, jagged vulnerability that follows you everywhere you go. Especially on Sunday mornings. 

The expectations we bring to church membership determine the quality of our experience.

I was Jim’s pastor for two years and I have never seen a clearer more profound example of this enduring truth about church life: The expectations we bring to church membership determine the quality of our experience. Jim hoped that somehow being involved with a church would mean more rain for his ranch. And in Jim’s eyes my job as the minister of the congregation was to help make it rain. Jim’s relationship with the church, I learned from some other members, had been difficult, painful and unpredictable as long as anyone could remember.

But that was many years ago. I am no longer a minister, I am no longer a Christian. I am a newly minted Unitarian and I’m trying to figure out what it means to be a member of a church. It can be exhilarating and deeply connecting but it can be a bumpy ride at times. I think the reason might be that sometimes when life gets me feeling particularly vulnerable my expectations of church membership change without warning and in those moments I find myself wanting my church and my ministers to make it rain. 

I am starting to figure out that church membership fits best with me when I think of it in very simple terms: church is a place where I can learn and grow and I can do it with others who want the same thing. Sometimes you feel closer to your church than at other times. But in many ways the bumpy times in church life offer the greatest growth and the deepest connection.

What expectations do you bring with you on Sunday mornings? Hoping for rain?

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