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In those early years, the congregation, made of Hands and Wilcoxs ~ my clan ~ and a few other assorted bloodlines, was a home away from home, a place I should want to be, so I was told. I was sinning if I chose not to attend, I was taught. I, when a teenager, being told I needed to witness for Jesus, started going around the community, knocking on doors of persons I did not know or did know, and telling them about Jesus and inviting them to worship. Where I came from, we often referred to where we attended and held membership as "my church home." I was told it was my duty to try to bring persons from the fields of sin into that home, that was my duty. I tried to bring them in, though the adults in the church did not seem to have a problem omitting that ought-to-do, and the pastors did not seem much interested either. I was not very good at bringing the lost sheep into the fold, I recall not one success. But I tried, and I was told that was fulfilling my responsibility.
Now, at this early age, I really did not know what the church is, in contrast to a church. A big difference. When we said, “Church was enjoyable last Sunday” or “Will I see you at church Sunday?” or “Just take a right at the corner, across from the tobacco barn, and you’ll see the church on the left,” we were not correct, really. That is like a Buddhist saying, “The sangha is that red-brick building on First Street, across from Ernie’s Garage. You can’t miss it.”
Like sangha, I came to see the church, as taught in the Christian Bible, is a people, gathered or apart, who share a common life called in the Scriptures “in Christ,” and this church is called the “Body of Christ,” in that same Bible. This alike to the sangha being Buddha being Buddhists who follow the wisdom of the Buddha. So, the church is Christ, as the sangha is the Buddha. At least that is the official version.
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Part of the joy of being in Maine, now in my late 50s, is being reunited with spiritual community. When I came here in late September 2018, I had not been in a church gathering for years, unless officiating a memorial meeting as a chaplain for the family of a deceased patient or officiating the memorial of my father. How did this happen, since I was such a church boy when young? And I served in varied ministry roles of a professional nature into my 50s. This writing is not for sharing how all this happened, but I will share, now looking back, what seems to be the moment I walked away, not knowing if for always or for only a time. This occurred about four years ago, after attending varied church worship meetings over many years, but mostly not, and feeling that I should ~ again, a should inherited from the past.
I had again started attending weekly worship. This time at an Episcopal congregation in north Florida, for, in past years, that sect is mostly what I attended on Sundays. I could enjoy the beauty of the liturgy, and came to relish the mystery of the Eucharist, while I could go in and out once weekly and never get involved otherwise. Yet, I found I was still going out of a sense of duty. Outside of the Eucharist, I could do better, it seemed, at home rather than in the worship gathering. This may partly be for I had been so into church work almost all my life, I had been churched out, so to speak. There were other reasons, however.