I was in a meeting last night with a woman a generation younger.
We were talking in said meeting about how to offer community to people who have no relationship with “church”.
She made a comment that I know is real but for some reason it sounded with added power in my belly.
She said that as we seek to be in relationship with non-church folk, we have to be impeccable with our actions. They are tired of our hypocrisy, these folk, and are watching to see that our words and our actions square with each other. Otherwise, we’re just another group of hucksters on the make (my words, not hers).
Her words jangled because one of the hardest things about being church is that we are a collection of human beings. As human folk, we bring into our churches all the wounds and ways of being that we learn along the way. Sometimes, we keep our woundedness and barbs neatly cloaked in our professional lives but let them fly in our private worlds of home and, most challenglingly to this pastor, church.
Churches are challenging and messy things. Our souls must feel safe enough to take the risk to be vulnerable to grace. So we talk a lot about acceptance and love in order to make room for light, but sometimes that vulnerability gets slashed by members who forget that the way of Jesus is surely about knowing our God-created goodness and it is very powerfully about seeing the Holy in each and treating each other accordingly.
Church is not an “anything goes” place. We’re a place where we ground ourselves in the teachings of Jesus and help each other grow into full Holy-reflecting humanity. When we bicker and slash and judge and wound each other, we hurt hurt hurt a tender trust.
And, the world is watching.
My belief is that people who enter churches smell the emotional air. At a core level, a sense of “safe or unsafe” is registered. If people in the church are observed as respectful of each other and graceful about differences, new folk feel perhaps safe to engage.
If tension and seething feuds are sensed or outright observed? Seekers chalk it up to yet another hypocritical club they want no part of. They take the wild courage and hope they summoned to walk into a church for the first time out the door with them. They don’t come back.
So how are we doing? As individuals and as a collection of relationships called church, how are we doing?
My prayer is that we own the challenge it is to live the teachings of Jesus. And, when we are tempted to lash out or gossip or indulge in drama or build posses or block the soul expression of others; I hope we are aware that we are not alone.
The world, the community, our children, seeking people. They are all watching.
And oh there is this: so is our Creator. The very creator who gave us one another in order that we might practice the fine art of loving.
It’s messy powerful crucial foundational work.
We can do it.
There are many reasons someone may join — or leave — a church. A true, consistent sense of welcome and inclusiveness is also key. I arrived at my (small, suburban, wealthy Episcopal) church in 1998 as a single woman and was introduced that first day to two women who are still good friends. That sends a powerful message.
The greatest challenge I see in my church, and many, is the relentless (tedious) primary or even exclusive attendance to the needs of people who have children and those who are married. Single people need pastoral care and fellowship and often bear tremendous burdens alone. In the years since I joined my church, this has never been addressed or resolved. While I am now re-married, I still consider this of serious concern.
I agree! Thanks for raising the issue. The church I serve is blessed by amazingly powerful single people and support and community for those who “often bear tremendous burdens alone” (powerful comment!) must be addressed. I hope we are. And, we can do better.
Being someone who doesn’t have a relationship with “church”, I’m a bit taken aback by the woman’s statement. While her statement may be true for some people, it’s not true for all. I prefer to speak for myself rather than be told what I think, or have others speak for me.
For many years I was part of a “church” but I walked away from it all. For the last 8 1/2 years I’ve been on a journey to discover what it is that I truly believe, want, and need.
I don’t know if I will ever return to the “church”, or find my faith again. But hypocritical is the last thing I have found “church” and the people there to be!!
Thanks for sharing your comments – blessings on your journey. e