In a (locked) post on a community today, someone talked about considering joining her faith community in a more formal capacity and spoke of her resistance to joining things, to putting her name on membership lists, and solicited thoughts on formal and informal membership.
Having put together my reply, I thought it might be of interest to regular readers of this journal as well.
my autobiography is probably not a helpful comment (but here it is)
I grew up with Honesty and Intentionality and Consistency being hugely valued, so I often have a really difficult time labeling myself as a member of a group. (See also the fact that I tend to feel sympathy/connection to a variety of, if not mutually exclusive then at least not wholly overlapping groups, so I feel not only more at home on the borderlands but also feel that is a truer statement of my identity.)
I grew up in a nondenominational Protestant church, and at some point during my teen years the pastor asked me if I wanted to get confirmed. I said no, because I didn't know what I believed, nor did I know what I was supposed to believe in order to become a member of this church. (My mother brought me and my brother to church every Sunday of our childhood, and I continued to attend until I left town for college -- but the pastor's sermons put me to sleep, so I usually helped with childcare rather than staying through the service; I never felt like I wasn't a part of that church family, though.)
The church I attended almost every Sunday my sophomore through senior years of college (two hours away from the town I grew up in) I was never invited to officially join as a member, and I would have said no if asked.
The year after college I lived with my parents and church-hopped some (though I spent most of my Sundays at the Congregational church), knowing I would be leaving town soon, so I saw it as more denomination-shopping than congregation-shopping.
Some months after I moved out of my parents' house (and moved a half hour closer in to Boston) I started church-hopping again and began accumulating church communities. Two and a half years later, it's almost a stubborn point of pride that I attend regularly (read: weekly) at a number of different churches (two Sunday worship services, one Wednesday night worship service, one Sunday discussion group) but am not officially a member of any church.
I've been referring to Cambridge Welcoming Ministries as my "primary" or home" church for probably close to a year now and Tiffany (the pastor) sometimes invites me to officially join the church (this year I'm on Finance Committee, so I'm not uninvolved), but that means claiming not only CWM but also the United Methodist Church. In looking at lay speaker certification recently I actually felt a willingness to officially join the church/Church -- though I'm still not ready to do it (yet).
In writing this up, it also occurs to me that because I'm involved in so many church communities, to claim one "official" membership feels problematically exclusive -- even though in some ways it shouldn't since I'm very clear that CWM is the church I feel most at home in, the church that most teaches me how to be church, the church that best embodies how I think church should be, the church that most nurtures my gifts and graces and challenges me (in a growing way rather than a frustrating way -- it does the latter, too, but less so than some of my other church communities), the church I prioritize and privilege over all others.
In a true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives! -- Parker J Palmer, 1977, Quaker Faith & Practice, 10.19The Parker Palmer quote [from the OP] definitely resonates with me as often my resistance to claiming a group identity label is very much connected to my resistance to being officially linked with certain other members of that group (political affiliation, church denomination, etc.).