Welcome to #ATLT, At the Lord’s Table: A Conversation, a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments. I respect people who have intellectual reasons for walking away from the church. Not because I agree, but because I can empathize and grapple with questions, too.
But then I dig deeper, and usually the reason people have left the church, faith, or organized religion comes down to one thing...
But, as my dad always taught me, people in the church can hurt us because it's often the only place that says, “Welcome, all sinners!” The church attracts people with deep problems whom many other organizations may stiff-arm. Those people get involved as volunteers and end up rubbing their fellow pew-sitters the wrong way. Jesus also warned against wolves in sheep's clothing. Sadly, some people end up getting bitten by these wolves and then claim the sheep did it. The wounded then leave the church.
Often I hear myself apologizing for the church and how screwed up we are. (And we are.) So instead, I would like to highlight people who come to mind as reasons why I love the church. It will be from a child's point of view since the people who first came to mind were from my days growing up in Michigan and attending the church my father pastored. Our family lived in the parsonage, which connected via sidewalk to the people who worshiped within the four walls of Trinity Church.
There were many good people at Trinity and a handful of bad. To those listed below, I simply want to say thank-you for living your life in a way that reflected the good and kind Christ whom I love. When I look back one day on the film of my life, I hope as an adult I was as generous with my time as you were with yours and that I care for the people in my church as you did.
Childhood Church Cast
Mr. Smith: He was a janitor at our church, and, for whatever reason, I was fascinated by the large sweeping dry mops. They were as wide as I was tall, and turning them felt like I was moving a dead body. Mr. Smith would assign me a long hallway (hello, child labor) and then take me to Burger King. Sounds sketchy, but it wasn't! He loved our church community by keeping it clean, and he loved me through Whoppers.
Dave Achterberg: I loved Dave because he treated me like an adult. We had this big printer at our church to make the bulletins in-house. It was legit! Dave had to lay down all the different ink onto the plates, and my little eight-year-old mind was blown away by the process. Dave would let me hang out and show me what he did step-by-step. After that was done, I think we probably talked about quantum physics. I was probably like an annoying little female version of Dennis the Menace, but Dave never let on.
Mr. and Mrs. Horst: He was a janitor, and she worked in the office. Every Christmas season, they would invite me over to their house to spend the night. Mr. Horst would swing by at 5 PM after work and take me to their home. Mrs. Horst and I would always make a craft. One year we even made a quilt. And by "we," I mean Mrs. Horst did and I watched. Not sure why I spent the night (my parents couldn't possibly have wanted a night without me), but I did. And the last year I stayed over I wet the bed. I might have been too old to wet the bed, and I might have been too embarrassed to tell them. I made the bed and went down for breakfast. That might be why it was the last year I was ever invited over.
Mrs. Wilson: She was in charge of missions at our church. She had little trinkets and maps from all over the world in her office. She would let me sit, talk, and ask questions. I never thought as a kid, "Oh, I want to travel when I get older," but I wonder now if Mrs. Wilson whetted my appetite for the world with her stories and passion. One memory I had of SNAP (which stood for Sunday Night Activity Program; creative, I know) was when there was a pretend airplane made out of a huge dome of plastic. Huge square floor fans* kept it inflated as we "traveled" to another country. When we "arrived" and left the plane, the basement of the church was transported into another country. Mrs. Wilson died a couple years ago from cancer, and, as I read online about her last mission trip, I couldn't help but continue to be inspired.
Mr. and Mrs. Achterberg: Yes, they are related to printing-press Dave. These two people were probably the coolest couple at our church. Mr. A was a veterinarian and pretty much always figured out how to have the best time possible, such as hay rides at their house in the fall or amateur hours where they convinced the staff to put on comedy routines for the church. My grandma, dad, and I all did a dance together once. Ask my dad. It's true. Wherever the Achterbergs are right now, I bet they are scheming up something fun.
Mr. and Mrs. Harbison: OK, they might tie for coolest couple. They had two boys and a girl who were similar ages and genders as the three kids in my family. Mr. Harbison was a pastor on staff, and Mrs. Harbison was a full-time mom. I may or may not have asked my mom as a kid why she couldn't be more like Mrs. Harbison. Ouch. Mrs. H let us watch movies and always made mac and cheese or ordered pizza. She let us dress up in her old wedding dress and laughed a lot. She thought we were funny. I was into that. Mr. Harbison had a killer mustache that he probably still rocks today. At least I hope so. Whenever he would pick me up to go play with their daughter Beth, he broke the speed limit. As the little legalist that I was, I would keep my eyes on the speedometer and call him out when the needle passed 25. But secretly I loved it.
Support group: I don't know how it started, but basically it was a number of families in our church who "did life" together. I can remember as a seven-year-old being exposed to the still-mostly-segregated South as we went to Mississippi with Habitat for Humanity and built homes. We also (and still to this day) spent every New Year’s Day together. Food covering every inch of table space; football being watched and played; ping-ponging mixed with ceaseless laughter, conversations, and bloating.
I could keep going.
While this was probably more fun for me to write about and reflect on than for you to read, writing this gave me an idea for you...
For every person in the church who has hurt you, try to think of two who have been kind. Who have tried to be like Jesus, even in the midst of their humanity. Start there; it may not make you hit up a church this Sunday, but it might change your perspective on what the church can be through the all-star yet simple cast of everyday people. And, who knows? Maybe one day you will join the cast, and a child in the audience will grow up and write about your performance.
From my heart,
*The ones that you put your face behind and say, "Luuuuuuke, I am your Faaather." Just me?
Joy serves as the Director of Love and Respect NOW. She began her journey in ministry as the Love and Respect Conference Coordinator for her parents, Dr. Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. During these live events, she would hear couples say over and over again, "I wish I knew then what I know NOW." This inspired her to help her generation, of 18-35 year olds, avoid that very feeling. You can follow Joy on her site www.loveandrespectNOW.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/loveandrespectNOW Twitter: @joyeggerichs and @loverespectNOW