The Church is not meant to be intimidating. People are supposed to come and feel welcomed. Yet I have heard countless tales about the hurt and bitterness inflicted upon people by the Church. They always say, “I left because of the Church.” Although what they mean is, “I left because of the people who were supposed to welcome me, but turned me away instead.” It was the people who were intimidating.
I can relate to these stories because I used to resent the Church. It was the first place where I felt so lonely and upset about myself. I had one friend– my cousin. My name was easily forgotten and I felt invisible. I especially hated retreats because there were group activities such as relay races and skits. These games were meant to forge bonds, but instead, they clarified the absence of relations.
It’s like when you’re in gym class and you’re the last to be chosen for a team. You’re not last because you suck. You’re last because they didn’t remember to include you until the absence of everyone else made you apparent again.
I hated the Church for making me feel invisible and unwanted. I silently cursed the girls who would walk up to me with huge smiles that didn’t reach their eyes. I fumed when I saw my peers chasing the upperclassmen because they were so desperate to fit “in.” I cried when I realized that I had no friends.
And the whole time I blamed the Church. Now I have divvied up the blame. I look back and realize what I could have done, but I also look back and remember the many times I openly resented the Church and they openly ignored me. They viewed my resentment as my problem. My bitterness and my anger were mine alone in their eyes.
They forgot that I was a part of their community. They forgot that a community exists so what is mine is ours. They forgot to untangle themselves from their own lives long enough to pause and see me standing there. Alone. Sad. Bitter. Fearful. Upset. Shy.
The Church has hurt many people, but the Church is not God. The community is not God. I am not God. They are not God. God is God and Him alone.
So if the Church isn’t God then what is it?
The Church is supposed to be the church. The church with people who are broken like me and seeking to be made whole again. The church that is imperfect because we make up the body and humans are imperfect.
I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t know how to help those who have been, are hurt, or will be hurt by the Church.
But I do know this– the Church does not exist to save us. It is Christ alone. We must not place our faith in a building or a group of people. Nor can we burden the church and its people with our anger. Anger fuels hate. God is love so where will you find Him if you have nothing but anger and hate tightly clenched in your hands?
If you don’t even notice someone from your community is missing, shame on you.