This is a major story for me and many of my longtime friends would want to know when on earth have I ever been outside the church.
It’s true. Most of my almost 67 years have been spent in a delicate relationship with some organized church. It’s the way I was brought up. It was a part of the American way, especially in the African American community.
Every Sunday for sure. No church. No nothing else that week.
Every Wednesday for Bible study. And maybe Friday night for a separate prayer meeting. And if you were in an active family like mine, probably choir rehearsal on Thursday night. Or maybe an usher board meeting.
The church has always been at the center of my lifestyle. Certainly not to misplace my Savior, who good Baptists would say, is Lord of my life.
But that’s how it goes.
And still there were some things that didn’t stick except outside the door.
1. I learned that Jesus loves people who don’t go to church. He’s not proprietary as we are. He doesn’t turn on people who don’t necessarily do the things He wants them to do. Human parents, caregivers demanded that we step to the drummer, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it does inhibit our way to find our own place in a serious sibling relationship with Jesus.
2. I learned that there is Grace for all. Whosoever will. Let him come. It’s not that I didn’t hear the words or read the scriptures that attest to this fact. But seeing this type of thing in action is the only real way to get it. Grace. It’s one of my favorite words now that I have inhaled it and am constantly resuscitated by it.
3. And most importantly I became totally convinced that God loves me. You know how our issues and experiences can get tied up in our faith walk. How Daddy love, Mommy love, or lack thereof can circumvent God love or our perception of it. Pastor love and leadership love-preferences can be no less damaging to delicate lives that struggle to belong and function and be accepted into the beloved with everyone else. A church family with its own set of prejudices and preferences can be so emotionally damaging and demeaning. Probably more so than a natural family. Anyway. Being in a setting that does not provide the kind of nurture psychologists say our hearts and minds demand is most damaging in a place that purports to supply the bread of life and living water at its best.
4. I also learned that more “church” was often going on outside the four walls rather than within. For instance. The local AA group that met at the Greenmount Recreation Center for many years. They were so congenial and cordial. Their hugs looked authentic. Their eyes were welcoming. Their concerns were real. They made me want to have a habit to kick so I could join. When I envisioned my own church, it had all the whistles and stops of the television bar Cheers, rather than the local steeples on many corners in my world. Imagine a church where everyone knows your name and they’re always glad you came. #ijs. More church at the dialysis center. More church at the coffee shop. More church at the beauty salon or nail shop.
5. I learned that real kindness was not limited to church settings. Not at all. Doing ministry in the street gave me the vantage point of seeing homeless people share the last sandwich with someone who came even later. I saw my own daughter take her coat off and put it on a shivering person she’d never met. I found that people who were equally dependent on each other were more likely to help out, to protect and to encourage the appointed helpers. And I learned that “churched” people would seize upon grace as a step-up in the kingdom and be happy to leave the “un-churched” beneath them where they belonged.