The stories that come out about churches are often tinted with a negative tone. I’ve heard too many stories of people who’ve been hurt by the church. Some stories are absolutely awful and they left a deep and burning scar within the soul of the story teller. Some you hear and are like “C’Mon, Body of Christ, let’s do and be better.”
I once had someone visit the church at which I was a pastor. We were celebrating a baptism and the family wanted to throw a party after the service. After all the food and festivities (and we Koreans know how to eat...), people stayed behind to help clean, including that visitor. I told him that he really didn’t need to stay, that we got this. But he insisted on helping and carried chairs to be stacked by the wall. I turned away — for like a second — to grab more chairs when I heard someone being scolded. I turned around and there was one of the long time members of the church (bless her heart) scolding the guest for stacking the chairs the wrong way. It sounded like an exasperated mother scolding her child after the child’s 25th variation of “Mom” (... totally not speaking from experience). The cardinal sin? He stacked the chairs 6 high when they’re supposed to be 5 high. He was a good sport about it (thank God) and we talked (laughed) about it over coffee later in the week. But he never came back.
Our minds seem to be designed to dwell on the negative. I can receive over 100 compliments on something I’ve done and one negative criticism and my mind zeroes in on that negative comment. (Surely that’s not just me, right?)
The good that churches have done--and continue to do--gets undone by the negative stories about us. Some are undeserving and unwarranted. Yet stories about us exist where we caused irreparable harm.
I just want to take this space to highlight the ways that churches have been witnesses to love. We do try to do good, but like all of us, sometimes we fall short.
When Hurricane Harvey paid Houston and unwanted visit (and lingered for five days), churches in Greater Houston rallied to help rebuild Houston. (My favorite image was of nuns using chainsaws to cut fallen trees). St. Andrew’s (pumpkinchurch.com) of Pearland even started an organization called Mosaic in Action (MosaicinAction.org) to help bring people back into their homes. Two years after Harvey, while many of the organizations are now officially ending Harvey rebuilds, Mosaic in Action is still rebuilding homes. They have helped rebuild over 250 homes.
There have been stories about churches who bought out the school lunch debts for the schools in their neighborhood. A church in Birmingham paying off 7-8 million dollars of medical debt in their communities.
Galveston Central Church shares a story about someone in their community named Jacob. Here’s what their pastor, Michael Gienger shared:
Somehow we’ve forgotten kinship, but Jacob is helping me to remember.
While I may have “thug life” written on my heart, Jacob has it tattooed across his eyelids. While many of my family members went to Penn State, many of his went to the state pen. On the surface, we couldn’t be more different. And yet yesterday we prayed at the same altar, heard the same words of grace and forgiveness, received the same bread and dipped it into the same cup.
Imagine what would happen if Jacob and I slowly began to remember that we belonged to each other. Imagine what would happen to me... to my church... to my city… Imagine what would happen if you joined us.
Radical kinship. Imagine.
Church in Kinship
My son is on the autism spectrum. He loves church. Especially the Eucharist. He sings at the top of his lungs, most of the time just below the pitch. If he knows any of the liturgy, he’ll say it so that the entire city can hear him. He’ll often mimic the hand motions of the preacher and the celebrant of the Eucharist. He can be a distraction. But not a single person — in any of the communities we were part of — ever made him feel like he wasn’t part of the community. He has always been warmly and wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged (often to my embarrassment) to be even louder. From the loving family Methodist church in Santa Barbara that welcomed him as our foster child — even paying for his preschool fees— to the Episcopal church in Pearland who have gone out of their way to shower him with love. Since he has been with us, he has never gone without love. We may not be rich in materials, but we have people. We’ve always had the church.
When we, the church, are at our best: We challenge the status quo by telling people “it doesn’t have to be like this, and we can do something about it”;
We lead, not with fear and/or hatred, but with love. A sacrificial love that demands we look for the imago dei in our neighbor, and even in our enemies;
We are defined not by what we are against, but what we are for. And what we are for is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
Maybe today, reflect on the ways that churches have been witnesses to Christ’s love. And if those reflections are far and few in between, then let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds.
Rev. Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.