While wanting absolutely to remain sensitive to people for whom church does not work, perhaps, we who find ourselves fed and nourished by this curious practice, should not allow ourselves to be totally preoccupied with those who find spiritual sustenance without the need for any formal religious practice.

4. In the end, there are people who will never feel drawn to church. And that is totally fine.

Those of us who do find meaning, strength, and nurture in a communal expression of faith, must renounce any attempt to ever pressure anyone into an involvement to which they do not feel deeply drawn by the inner call of the Spirit.

Church-going does not make anyone a better person. There is no inherent virtue in gathering as a community in worship. We gather only because we feel moved to connect with people who share this strange stirring in the depths of our being that is nurtured when we sing, pray, speak words of mystery, and break bread together in honour of a reality we cannot see, understand, or ever hope to fully express. We gather because we believe that we share a common identity as beings created in the image of God and we trust that our awareness of our true identity is deepened by being shared within a body of faith that affirms our true nature.

Coercion, pressure and manipulation have absolutely no place in our little bag of tools for being church. Church is a community of freedom. If anyone feels drawn to join us in our journey, we rejoice. If they feel called to contribute in any way to the on-going life of our community, we welcome their contribution with gratitude. If their circumstances change and one day, they find their lives leading them away from this aspect of faith, we release them, perhaps with sadness, but with no hint of guilt or shame.

I am much less troubled by people who never experience any call to walk through the door of a church building for worship, than I am often by those of us who sometimes shelter behind the sacred walls of this venerable institution. I am deeply concerned that a person who struggles with the whole idea of church might not find among us an open, sympathetic hearing for their legitimate concerns.

Can church make space for a person who offers a stinging critique of our community life? Do we have room for the one who cannot sign on the dotted line of every doctrine and practice that shape our corporate identity? Can we embrace such a person’s questions and doubts? Can we welcome their confusion? Do we want to learn the hard lessons about the real obstacles we may be putting in the way of people encountering the presence of the Divine in our midst?

Do we want to hear the challenge that comes from beyond our hallowed walls? Are we willing to make some of the radical shifts in church culture that may be required to enable us to extend a more genuine welcome to those who did not grow up familiar with the strange world of church? Or, are we determined to simply put our noses to the grindstone and continue demanding that, in order to find a place among us, people must conform to our ways and give up their genuine, authentic and important struggles with church? Are we willing to let go of some of our comfort to welcome those who find our culture deeply foreign and profoundly strange?

If we refuse to heed the voices from the edges of our community, we deserve the fate that awaits us. No doubt God will find other vessels willing to carry the rich treasure of the secret inner life that Jesus came to uncover if we cannot open the doors and windows to the Spirit who blows through the lives of those from beyond our traditional practice.