What kind of church is this?

He walked in completely out of the blue.  He was tall, and it was kind of dark in our entryway.  I happened to be walking by the door and so it was to me to meet him and introduce myself.  “Hi, I’m Stephen.  Welcome.  Can I help you find where you’re headed?”  “Well, hello brother,” he replied as we shook hands.  “You all have some sort of Bible study starting tonight?  I’m going to my church in a little bit, but I was early, and saw your sign.” 

His “Hello brother” caught my attention.  “He’s not going to like it here,” I cringed inside.  But, without hesitation, I clarified what was starting that evening for him, and directed him back to the prayer, meditation and scripture class, led by my extraordinary gifted wife and partner in ministry.  Since there were others in the room, I was completely comfortable that this would work out alright.  But it seemed that after the planned introduction to the evening, which happened to be a discussion of Jennifer’s call  to ministry and spirituality the class was headed off to the labyrinth in the fellowship hall.  It was at that point that “Brother Jeff” said to her, “What kind of church is this?  I think I’ll go to my church.  Thanks.”

Ironic.  It just so happened that we were talking about that very subject in my own class that night.  We were discussing the unwritten social contract we as a community of faith prescribe to- the kind of expectations we have of one another and the level of sharing we are willing to divulge to one another.  Literally asking “What kind of church is this?”

I guess I am frustrated by some of my recent readings on the early church in the letters of the Second Testament.  They lived in a very different time where communities were smaller, people were less mobile, and it certainly feels like everybody knows everybody’s business!  The letters they get seem to focus so much on exclusivity that I wonder who was left to be “in” the church when so many seemed to be getting excluded, pushed out or disassociated with.  Over and over again, the letters seem to prescribe the kind of “left behind” mentality- suggesting the community of faith had to leave so many of the “world” behind.

Now, honestly, I’m not actually thinking about our “brother Jeff” at this point, so much as I am thinking about his response to a woman minister and her spirituality and call.  I’m not thinking about how we treat strangers so much as how we treat one another.  I’m not really thinking about the kind of love we share with our neighbor and the world, so much as I am thinking about the kind of love we share with one another.  I’m talking about telling the truth.  I’m talking about sharing the real pain.  I’m talking about taking real stands against injustice, real work for the poor, real sacrificial giving, and real truth in loving ways- WITHIN OUR WALLS AS WELL! 

It struck me in our class discussion that we are social beings, perhaps sometimes so desperate for relationships and control that we aren’t willing to risk the truth because it might violate some unwritten rule or social expectation.  That’s really too bad!  “What kind of church is this?”  Sometimes even ministers are stung be the questions of outsiders in ways that provoke new awareness.

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