I was making myself at home. In the dark way of the world I had come to know what would be my life’s place, though I could not yet know the life I would live in it…I had come unknowing into what Burley would have called the ‘membership’ of my life. I was becoming a member of Port William.

{Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter}

More than a few years ago, ecclesiastical authorities pulled me from my seminary womb, spanked me on the butt and scribbled my name on an ordination certificate. They sent me into the world, green and ignorant but effusive with zeal. One of my enterprising ideals was to de-bunk the ossified notion of church membership. I insisted the whole affair was a formality offering no more umph than signing up for the YMCA. We wanted ‘organic community.’ We wanted to ‘authentically live life together.’ We didn’t want structures but wanted to do ‘life on life.’ Apparently, we also wanted to craft our own clichés.

Years have, I believe, brought a humble measure of wisdom. Reading Wendell Berry and my Bible have added a bit more. I’ve reflected on all this with a piece for Deeper Church, if you’d care to tussle with these ideas further.

7 Replies to “Membership”

  1. Winn, Thank you for sharing the link. I think there is an important re-defining of membership happening in our generation. It seems that there was a time where membership was touted as a means of producing statistics. Membership roles were often added to and seldom removed from. There is no life in a membership of statistics. There is, however, great meaning in membership of community. I am encouraged to hear these words from you, as I believe I was with you during some of the “membership doesnt matter” phase. I’ve been processing back toward the meaning and value of membership ever since.

    1. I’m sure you were, Dayna. There was something we were reacting against – and that was a worthy process. But we must journey on, eh?

      1. Yes we were reacting to many things, most of them worth of being questioned. But I now deeply value the idea of tying myself to others in the faith in a more formal way. As we counseled our oldest toward baptism, defining the meaning of membership took on a whole new meaning and I am sure I will just continue to learn as I grow in my discipleship. I think I am comfortable saying that I am glad for the journey… even the rough spots.

  2. Having lived somewhere in my growing up years (actually not far from the real Port William) where I understood the better and the worse of this membership concept, the past few years have found me aching tangibly for a place to belong, a place even similar to that which I thought far more worse than better way back then. Because, as Hannah said, we all need to belong somewhere. Of course, it is not at all a geographical location of which I speak, but rather the kind of community you reference. In these days, perhaps it is learning better how to let my nuclear family be this for me, for each of us. In the meantime, the ache remains. I will let it be used and have a purpose.

  3. I’m always challenged when I read your words, Winn. I see beauty there, and hope and conviction, and yes, purpose. You and those artsy reader types just might have me reading Berry one day. 🙂

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