For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved church. About the only thing I ever resisted was singing in the children’s choir because I considered the robes with their big floppy bows as an affront to my eight-year-old dignity.
I loved church. I was there every time the doors were opened. I did a lot of other things… piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, trumpet lessons (I was quite lessoned as a child), high school softball and basketball teams, marching band. But the church stuff always came first. The church stuff was always the best.
As a teenager, perhaps foreshadowing future writing passions, I saved the orders of worship so that I could keep the words of the anthems and of the printed prayers. My brothers gently suggested that I might want to re-title the stationary box I kept them in as I had it labeled, “Church Bull.”
I knew I loved being at church and doing church stuff. I knew I had fun there. I knew the people loved me there. Only in recent years have I come to appreciate how much it was saving my life.
I had many wonderful places of blessing in my life. I knew my family loved me, even when my brother and I fought in the ways of brothers and sisters. (I returned home from Ridgecrest one summer to find a sign on the door instructing me not to come in because they’d rented my room out. Oddly enough, it was in my brother’s handwriting.) I never felt like the brightest kid in class but I knew I had a place there. Most teachers generally liked me because I generally liked school. But there was also this other place.
He came into my life as the proverbial stranger. I came to know him as my abuser, deeply cruel and stunningly sadistic. Over a period of years he abused me in every way imaginable and many ways I couldn’t have imagined. He told me I was worth nothing and treated me accordingly.
Lately I’ve been thinking about what would have happened had I grown up in a different sort of church. If I’d been in a church that told me that as a woman I had no voice and no power. If I’d been told about an angry, fear-inducing God who had to punish someone and aren’t we glad He chose His kid instead of us, like we deserved. A God long on taking names and short on grace. In short, a God who sounded a lot like my abuser.
If I’d grown up in such a church, I cannot imagine that my life would have turned out any thing near as well as it has. If God had been as angry with me as my abuser…
Without having the words for it, I needed something as big as God’s love to hang onto and hold onto. It was the only thing big enough and strong enough. I survived and I survived well, and I am quite sure neither would have been possible without knowing the sort of God I was introduced to as a child.
Church matters. I suppose one of the reasons that I’ve been half in love with church for as long as I can remember is because a church helped save my life.
The thing is, it’s not just me.
I’ve heard it from more than one client. The details are different but the story is the same. Life bumped them around badly, either as a kid or as an adult. In a community of people called church, through words that were preached and prayed and sung and through the welcome they received, they found grace. They’ve been sitting next to you in the pews, around a table on a Wednesday night, hanging out late at night on a retreat. Or coming in late and slipping out early from worship so they can be as invisible as they feel.
Church matters and what we do in church and through church matters. It matters that there are congregations not afraid to reach for and hold onto the twin strands of grace and justice. It matters that we give witness to a God who challenges us to be good stewards of all the gifts we have received and who also beckons us to come and rest in God’s lap. It matters that we tell the stories of a God who loves us madly, no matter where life takes us, what life has done to us and what we have done in our lives.
Those of us who have hung around church hallways for most of our years, we can forget how very important it is. Church matters.
So this week when the plumbing stops up and the Wednesday night nursery workers fail to show and the soloist for Sunday has the flu, remember this. Church matters. And sometimes as you stumble your way along the path of trying to be church, you are saving a life.