Institutions, made up of fallible men and women, are certain to disappoint. When the ultimate goal is to emulate God’s perfection, we will all continually fall short. When my religious institution left me thirsting and aching for more, I’ll admit that I started looking around me, wondering if perhaps the grass was truly greener on some other denomination’s lawn.
I prayed and gnashed my teeth, I sometimes stopped praying, and I cried out for answers on my knees wondering if the problem was within me (as many advised) or the institution. I ached for broader ways to serve, for increased institutional equality, for a less insular focus. I questioned culture versus gospel, as the two often intermingled in indistinguishable ways. I mourned the loss of certainty, but felt freedom to reach to God with new questions. I wrestled with the painful contradictions of fear and faith colliding.
As those questions flowed, I let bitterness and frustration with my institution inform my experience. I turned those feelings both inward and outward, all the while longing to focus my passion and energy in a positive way. I looked, but I didn’t see a greener lawn elsewhere and I didn’t really want to find one. Weary of wrestling, I began to search for God around me. My appreciation for different faith practices increased, I found beauty in the words of a modern apostle, and my admiration for women called to ministry multiplied. I recognized God in the intricate carvings adorning the Notre Dame,
the glorious view above San Sebastian, Spain,
and the inspiring words of the Dalai Lama.
It became clear to me that no denomination held all the secrets, provided all the answers, or escaped institutional issues. I believed in the value of communal worship, religious habits, and a shared purpose within a religious community. How could I reconcile this with my questions and what I viewed as faith-led, acceptable desires for a richer faith experience? I wanted to find peace, to soothe the fears of loved ones, to surrender my heart again in worship.
With a prayer in my heart, I started to deconstruct, then rebuild, my idea of a house of worship looked like. Was it a physical church building or a temple? Would I find it in a book of scripture, a faith conference, or an organization? Was I meant to meet God in a single, physical place? And then it hit me:
What if I am my house of worship?
Perhaps seeking one physical place, one institution, to fill my cup is the wrong direction. Is it possible that my expectations of a single entity are too high or misplaced? What if the place I’m seeking isn’t outward, but in me?
What if my goal was not to simply stand in holy places, but to become a holy place – filled with light, hope, peace, faith, and passion?
My personal calling to Christ is found through advocacy for social justice, human rights, equality, and inclusiveness. I feel called to teach, to minister, to heal. I find meaningful ways to serve Christ in my chosen faith, but I often find myself thirsting for more. Does this mean my institution, my shared familial faith, has failed me or that I have failed it? Does it mean I should strive to change it, do I leave it, do I change me, or do I conform?
The value in the religious institution, for me, is high. It’s beauty is found in the faith promoting habits, the hymnals, the shared communion, the rites, the voices raised jointly in praise, and a shared faith that bind families together. But does my commitment to one house of faith require worship to end within the confines of our church walls or scriptural text? Can I build up my house of worship by seeking to edify experiences in a myriad of holy places, with the goal of building up my own house?
My house of worship feels renewed, inspired, and fortified when I;
Participate in interfaith meetings in my community twice a month;
Serve those in need, inside and outside of my congregation;
Advocate for social justice, human rights, and equality;
Teach my children that we are all children of God;
Volunteer my time in various places;
Research interfaith ministry studies;
Study the scriptures and pray with my spouse;
Go on family outings;
Practice self-care in things such as Mindfulness;
Attend therapy and care for my mental health;
Read inspirational books from numerous authors and genres;
Connect with my extended family;
Speak up for truth, even if it is unpopular;
Nurse a baby or hug a child;
Walk away when contention inhibits understanding;
Teach and direct a thoughtful discussion;
Defend the right of other’s to worship and love as they choose;
Pray for and Promote peace;
Partake of the sacrament;
Meditate without interruptions;
Put kindness first.
I wish my institution had soup kitchens, beds for the homeless, and more congregation-led advocacy efforts to further worldwide human rights. I wish our lay clergy and priesthood offices, down to opportunities for 12 year-olds, included females institutionally in mirrored ways. I wish we questioned and discussed more, worrying less about “right” answers.
But I cherish the good my faith community does in worldwide donations, in disaster relief, in service missions, in caring for those within the congregation. I’ve learned about God’s love for me as a woman and heard whispers of my Heavenly Mother within the walls of our humble chapels. I built my marriage and family on beautiful principles that unify us and invite God into our home. And I honor and treasure those things. My personal house of worship was founded in my faith community and has been fortified there throughout my life.
If my soul aches for more ways to serve my God, for additional words of inspiration, for activities that lead me to Christ, who’s responsibility is it to meet those needs? If I am the place of worship, does this give me more room to take in the good, let go of the bad, and take responsibility for filling my own cup? As I travel through life with a goal to edify,to build up, and to honor God through my actions, what will my house of worship look like? How can I positively influence the places and people around me; edifying, testifying, serving, communing, and supporting?
Can I reject bitterness, criticism, and unmet expectations if one institution isn’t required to meet all my needs? Perhaps I find meaning in the sacrament, covenants with my spouse, and community in my church building on Sunday. If the women’s organization, standard service activities, views on gender roles, and donations to institutional charity efforts within my chosen institution don’t satisfy my craving for service, for expanding my community, for stretching myself, then I will expand the borders of my faith community. I will build bridges, rather than tear down walls. I will seek positive, faith-affirming ways to build up my personal house of faith.
My house of worship will become a place of:
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.