Choosing Church

My life as a reflection of my love for the church

by Scott Morris

My earliest memory of church is when I was about five and my mother dressed me in a white suit and hat for Easter morning. I thought I looked dandy. More important, when it came time for the Easter egg hunt, my goal was to crush the other children. The game. The adventure. Is that what church is about?

In the eighth grade I was eligible for Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF). An MYF summer retreat in Panama City, Florida, made me certain that I wanted a life in the church. It was a combination of sunsets, singing Kumbaya on the beach and asking ontological questions that convicted me. After that I was in MYF every week. I knew exactly what I believed. And then Jack Anderson became our new youth minister, and he stirred up more questions than answers. I used to take my Jesus Christ Superstar vinyl records to Jack’s apartment, and we would listen and discuss the theology.

Nevertheless, when I went to college I did what many college students do and decided I didn’t really need to go to church. I would just have my own relationship with God in my own way. It didn’t take me too long to figure out I really did need church. I was reading the Bible and seeing all the healing stories, and the connection of faith and health solidified for me—and so did the conviction that the church should be involved in healing together.

After college I went to seminary, and then to medical school, and I have found my life in the church in two places—the Church Health Center and the local congregation where I have been an associate minister for as long as I’ve been at the Church Health Center.

Author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor and I overlapped in our studies at Yale Divinity School. A few years ago she wrote a popular book titled Leaving Church. It was about the tensions in her religious life that led to her decision to give up her work as an Episcopal priest. Every preacher I know read the book, including me. Anyone who has served in a church understands where she’s coming from.

In contrast to Barbara’s book, Martin Copenhaver, another Yale graduate, co-authored a book with Lillian Daniel called This Odd and Wondrous Calling. Equally honest as Barbara in reflecting on the challenges and tensions of life in the church, these authors were not ready to leave, and their book made me want to rethink church, not leave, as well.

For almost 30 years I have taught the adult Sunday school class at my church. When we started, the plaster was falling off the walls in the room where we met, and the carpet was a ratty mess. I didn’t care. I held in my heart a question Dietrich Bonhoeffer posed toward the end of his life while he was in prison, just before the Nazis executed him. He was contemplating what “religionless Christianity” might look like, and he asked, “Who is Jesus Christ for me today?” It was a personal question, not just a scholarly approach to the Bible.

I made my adult Sunday school class a never-ending Bible study. I work my way through the New Testament at a snail’s pace, and when I finish with all 27 books, I just start over.

You would think by now I would know why I need the church or who Jesus is to me. But every week I am renewed by the process of asking and seeking, and I’m grateful for the privilege of asking and seeking alongside fellow pilgrims who have traveled with me for many years as well as those who are just now stepping into the path. This is life in the church. No white suits required.

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