Overheard in coffee hour:
“It was kind of hard for me to join this church because I’ve had a lot of bad experiences,” he said.
“Join the club,” she said with some eye-rolling.
I laughed. Kind of a quick, laughing-to-keep-from-crying sort of moan.
It’s true. We’re the walking wounded here at Western. The pastoral staff, the leadership–many of us have a story. I’m not sure how to write about it. I’ve attempted in the past, because I know that it’s not just here. It’s everywhere. Sometimes it just seems like people are roaming around, black and blue from some sort of church experience.
It comes up in different ways.
Often it is a person who felt like they were scared or manipulated into asking Jesus Christ into their hearts as a child. There was something about being told, at a vulnerable age, that they had to make a decision or go to hell that wounds. They have memories of the constricting fear from worrying about losing their salvation or being left behind during the rapture.
Since belief and doubt were presented in such black and white terms, people often worried about asking questions, or analyzing their faith in any meaningful way. Many people can’t seem to imagine that God would allow any questions. And most decide that it’s less painful to walk away.
Or there are the people who lived through the frustration of sexism in the church. Being told that women should keep silent, that they should not teach, that they should always submit. Questioning any role that women might play outside of the home.
There is the pain of sexual abuse and scandals that have infected our church in the past decades. I always wonder, “Has this always been going on? Do we just talk about it now? Or have things gotten worse?”
I have grown up in the midst of sexual scandals and I have pastored in communities that have been greatly affected by them, and I realize just how damaging it is for a church. But that pales in comparison to just how devastating it is for families and individuals. And I often wonder what the long-term effect of these wounds will look like.
People often describe to me what church was like in the 1950s. I wince when I hear people longing for that day. I know the mainline was in a position of power and influence, and I know that even the largest sanctuaries were full. But I would never go back.
My church, the church that I love, is full of color and diversity. It is full of women’s voices speaking out, clear and strong. It is full of gays and lesbians who can work, worship, and serve God in the fullness of their calling. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
But it is also a church whose members are wounded. The bruises are clear. And yet… for some reason, we haven’t given up. We are still drawn together, in this painful and sacred process of healing.
photo by Sasha with an X