I’ve mentioned before that I work in a large church. When I tell people this they usually look skeptical and wonder what it is I DO all day! After all, the church must sit empty 6 days a week right? Well, that’s what I thought when I signed on 7 years ago, but I’m here to tell you, I earn my not too insubstantial pay. We are open 8-5 every day, Mon-Fri. The phones ring all day long and outside groups meet here every day of the week. We have weddings, funerals, and other life marking events. We have homeless people coming in for money and we have workmen going about the daily business of repairing the roof, the air conditioning, the water damage from the leaks. You name it, someone’s repairing it. I kind of like the thought that we are here for people to stop by and chat after a meeting or ladies group. I know some of these people better than those at my own church where I live. It’s sad when they die and it’s joyful when they marry.
Just today, one of the pastors was discussing this Sunday’s reading about Noah and the ark with me. He said that he learned an old joke in seminary. With all of the animals and all the people on the ark, there must have been quite a smell going on. He said, the joke was, “If it weren’t for the storm without, they couldn’t have withstood the stench within.” Funny as that is, he said, the church is like that as well. I had to laugh because it is sooooo true. Most people who find no shelter from the storms in their lives find a good port in the church, regardless of the “stink.” I think I’m beginning to realize this is true. Despite what we have to put up with in church; the hypocrisy, the gossip, the petty arguments about buildings and meetings, etc., it’s still better than being in the world outside, which practices the same things only on a more vicious scale. I’m not saying we sanction abuse or that we ignore abuse. I’m not saying that we put up with mega-maniacal pastors and pastors that suck the congregation dry of resources. Clearly this is not what Jesus meant by community. But there are pockets of sanity out there. I happen to work in one and if it weren’t for these people, I would have given up on it long ago.
God knows I’ve tried to. I’ve been angry. I’ve yelled. I’ve thrown tantrums and berated others. I’ve not been a good friend. I’ve used people and I’ve not followed through on my promises. I’ve come to realize that being a Christian and going to church is VERY MUCH like being married. My marriage analogy on another web site seemed to be a particularly good fit and was effortless to write at the time because it rang so true. But also like a marriage, someone always gives up first. True, it always has to be us that does it in Christian circles. Rarely, do both parties work on the marriage at the same time and save all concerned from a divorce. In fact, the “church” is notorious for its love it or leave it attitude. The problem is always the individual never the system. That’s how you smell true bureaucracy. But, where I work, I see reconciliation going on all the time. Where I work, I see love and a whole lot of wisdom being dispensed by pastors who genuinely care. We have such a great time here, that I wonder why all churches can’t function this way. And it’s also the number one reason why I can’t give up on the church I attended in my home town. If it happens here, there’s hope for it.
We’ll see how it turns out. I’m not rushing back into church or anything, but I’ve gotten little signs that perhaps I should take a look. I’m wiser now. I’m not so naive. And, I’m hopeful. It’s a port in my storm. Sure, it stinks sometimes, but I’m not strong enough to ally with those in the world who claim they have your best interests at heart but are really only in it for the ideology or the identity politics involved. In some ways that’s how the church and the “world” are alike. But in a lot of other ways, they couldn’t be more different. I think I really do need my ark.