As a third-generation preacher I have been in the church my whole life, however, there were times where my church involvement and attendance was episodic at best. Yes, I was one of “those people” who didn’t attend church regularly despite my deep relationship with Jesus Christ and faith in God. Not only that, despite my lack of attendance, some of my most prolific faith formation took place during those times. During my young adult years much of my faith formation happened in places that looked much closer to the scene set at wedding at Cana than Bible study or worship service in church.
As an 80’s and 90’s “club kid” (slang for young people acquainted with the NYC club scene at that time), I often spent my nights at dance clubs and music venues throughout Washington, DC and New York City dancing the night away with my friends. Too tired for church in the morning (just being honest) Sunday afternoons were reserved for brunch, laundry and homework or getting myself ready for the work week. Rather than a top down, “pastor” led type of experience, faith formation took place in crowed clubs over loud music with drinks where we lamented lost loves, mourned lost job opportunities, celebrated engagements, and trusted God to not judge or condemn us, but to love, cover and keep us safe through it all. Whenever asked how we met, or where we could be found (when not hanging out) we told the truth, at church and several of the folks we’d meet “out” would show up looking for us.
After being out all night, we’d often retreat to a diner or one of our homes for breakfast where we’d spend the early morning rehashing the shenanigans of the evening before and trying to make meaning of it all. In those moments our present life situations would often lead us to deeper introspection and reflection on our purpose in the world and life in general. As we’d unpack and address our problems and those of society at large, we’d engage in what I now know is rich theological discourse, trying to make sense of ourselves, God, and our community. We were church girls and although we might not have been inside an actual church in months, the church was deeply planted and flourishing within us. Even as young believers with plenty of questions and even doubt, the Holy Spirit was always abiding as constant companion and guide.
When I think of this rich period of personal faith formation my mind skips past Jesus teaching on the Sea of Galilee or the Mount of Beatitudes and goes straight to the Wedding at Cana where Jesus not only came to celebrate but brought the drinks. In the midst of the revelry Jesus is there not as spiritual leader or religious official but as a member of the community of love surrounding the happy couple. By his own profession, His time hadn’t yet come so He wasn’t there to be the “savior” of the party although in some ways He ends up doing just that. He isn’t there to judge, confirm, convict, or teach but as just another member of the community doing community things.
What’s interesting is that when the wine runs out, Jesus seems to be more frustrated with having to don the mantle of miracle maker prematurely than the fact that the revelers drank all the wine. Unlike many of us who always insist on assuming our official title and roles, Jesus shows us the value of authenticity in human relational connection over rules and responsibility. What ensues are lessons in respect for our elders…even Jesus didn’t cross his mama, grace to provide what wasn’t deserved (better wine than before) and genuine community (Jesus was among the people and like unto the people as just another person in her crowd) all of which is faith formation without a pew, Bible, or “pastor” in sight.
While faith formation does and should happen in traditional, institutional settings, we would all do well to remember that faith formation is a lifestyle not an event or program. It happens with and without us in ways that are overtly sacred and secular. Sometimes places that seem profane, worldly, foreign, or uncomfortable to us are the perfect places for God to commune with those for whom church is temporarily or permanently not option. When we privilege the places that we lead, direct and control as THE places of spiritual formation we leave so much that is valuable unacknowledged and so many who deeply need our love, care, and community untended. Perhaps a good posture would be to start asking those in our community, how has your faith been formed this week and inviting ourselves to the party the Spirit has already begun. We might be surprised by the ways the seeds we plant in church are growing and thriving in our broader communities unbeknownst to us.