In wandered a woman I didn't recognize wearing a blonde wig. She told me her name was Star. I wondered how she got into the building and remembered that our new access control left some doors unlocked for a short time after worship before they secure for the day. She must've come in then.
Star needed help, she told me. On her way to Miami from New York to visit a dying relative. No gas money. Could we help? Before I could answer she told me that she hoped we could, because she'd already been to dozens of churches in their journey southward and been refused at most, even treated rudely at some. The church is supposed to help people, she lamented. Why didn't they help me?
It was sad, of course, and I told her so. But I could also hear something else in her voice that put me at dis-ease. Entitlement, maybe? As if she expected help? I wasn't sure but I didn't have time to think about it. She reminded me again, she needed gas money. Help.
And so within the half hour we were parked beside each other at the Shell gas station a few blocks from the church. I had told her and her companion to meet me there. And so there I was, inside purchasing a gas card. And then there I was, beside their car motioning her to roll down the window as the light ran started to fall. Here, I said with a smile, hope this will help you get where you're going!
She looked at the card and the amount on it, and made no attempt to hide the obvious look of disappointment on her face. Oh. I thought the church would've done more.
For the record, this is not a response I typically get. When I've found myself in the position of being able to extend a little of the church's grace like this, most of the folks respond with tremendous gratitude. A very few do not respond at all. This one took me to unchartered territory:
I thought the church would've done more.
I stood out there in the rain, which was now falling at a faster clip, watching Star's car pull away. I took stock of the fact that I was standing in a rainy gas station parking lot when I could've already been home with the family. I had gone out of my way to do the very thing the church empowers me to do and was made to feel lousy about it.
And then I quickly got over myself, for two reasons:
First, there is no promise in this ministry gig that everyone will appreciate every kind act, every moment of mission, every extension of grace. And honestly, if that's what we're in it for, we're in it for the wrong reason. Heck, even Jesus, the one who started this whole thing, didn't exactly have the red carpet rolled out for him.
But even more than that - my dear sojourner Star was spot-on in her assessment. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with her.
I thought the church would've done more when it comes to helping people like Star and, as my friend Rodney Sadler loves to say, "the least, the lost and the otherwise left out." We house food pantries and house those experiencing homelessness for the night, and that's wonderful. But what about taking the next step to the front-lines of larger conversations about the brokenness of various systems in our culture, serving as a voice for the voiceless and doing our part to honor the image of God within us all?
I thought the church would've done more in fostering a harmony of peacefulness, unity and inclusiveness of all. Instead, often times the church is not only at the front of the dividing lines, but the very writing utensil that pens them.
I thought the church would've done more to lead the way in caring for God's creation. After all, the very book we hold near and dear begins with a story that casts humanity as caretakers, not owners, of all that surrounds us. And yet the church, with a few exceptions, has been silent. And in some instances, I mean really wacked-out instances, it's even sought to tear this world apart, since a literally broken world raises hopes of rapture glory and the fulfillment of a twisted desire to avoid being "left behind."
I thought the church would've been all for change and growth, for what living entity survives without either, and what institution trending toward decline does not see where the road is headed and chart a new course? Especially when our scriptures continually speak of God doing a new thing in our midst, where change is good, where God's great work of transformation always happens on the margins and on the road less traveled.
I thought the church would have fully embraced, by now, it's primary reason for being: telling, showing, proclaiming, living, and sharing God's love with everyone. Not to be a social club or offer goods and services or have special programs or simply a place to send money for a nice tax write-off.
I could go on, but you get the point. Truth from a Star.
Here's the thing: I didn't get a chance to respond and I'm not always one to think quick on my feet . But if I had, I think I would've said something like this:
You're right - you should expect more from the church. We all should. We're working on it, trust me. And you know something? I think we're making progress. I think we're beginning to take what we feel church ought to be, what we believe it should be, what we sense it was created to be, and with God's help making it that very thing. It won't always be pretty, and I'm sure we'll make a ton of mistakes. But one day I think you'll find that we're not simply a place to visit in your hour of need, but a fellowship to call your home.
I am hopeful, ever hopeful, for the church.