I used to go to church.
I grew up in church really. Little by little it felt less safe and then it just felt less relevant. It didn’t reflect me or who I was. All the communities I’ve been a part of offered me something different, and as is life, each one hurt me in different ways too.
This is the inevitable part of life. No relationship with a person or a church will leave us untouched. Some people and some churches will bless us and heal us long after the relationship has moved on. Others will harm. Some will do both. Churches are merely gatherings of fallible people.
One day it just didn’t make sense anymore to drag my kids and my husband out the door and into any form of a church when nobody, including me, wanted to be there.
So I stopped. I stopped trying so hard to fit in. To find the right church. I stopped obsessively googling different churches and reading belief statements online. I stopped, well mostly stopped, feeling guilty that my kids weren’t getting some of the same good memories I have of growing up in church.
We continued to read The Jesus Storybook Bible. I listened to podcasts like Rob Bell and read posts by Sarah Bessey. People who love deeply and despite being accused of misinterpreting the bible and having controversial beliefs, still embrace their faith, openly and with deep conviction and passion.
Then a church fell in my lap. I’m not sure how it even happened. A friend wanted to go back too. We both wanted our kids to experience Sunday school. She had a friend from high school who went and designs the bulletin. So we went. Our first Sunday we walked in the YYC Pride Parade.
We both laughed because the buttons we had to hand out were God loves Queers. We were both ok with the Queer part of it, a little more unsure of the God part.
Since then, slowly, sometimes awkwardly, we’ve gotten more and more involved. I don’t feel the tendrils of panic around my throat now every time someone prays. When I was worried about my ADHD kids having a hard time sitting through the first part of the service, they were welcomed to play downstairs. When we joked about sermons being hard to sit through because of ADHD a doodle page appeared on the back of the bulletin. Not only did I feel like my quirks were accepted there, they seemed welcomed, even celebrated.
Glennon Doyle Melton posted this on her facebook the other day after the American elections:
“And so today- if Jesus followers asked the same questions their leader asked with his life.. If we looked hard at our own communities, in our own countries today and asked:
Who is power forgetting?
Who is religion oppressing?
And then we gathered those people. And ate with them. And listened to them…we’d find ourselves listening to black kids. Black women. Black men. Brown people. Muslims. Addicts. The mentally ill. Children. Gay kids. Transgender kids. Refugees. Immigrants. Widows. The financially poor…. And if we look around our churches and we do not see those faces…then we can be certain we are not doing the work that Jesus did.”
And I realized somehow, without even really meaning to, I had found a church where I could say when I look around the pews beside me, I see those faces. I found myself not having to apologize for my kids kicking benches and being loud in the service. A place where I could pull out colouring during the service to help me concentrate and nobody cared.
Maybe nobody cared anywhere else I went either, but when a church intentionally cultivates acceptance of the least of these everyone feels more welcome. When you see love poured out and programs geared towards the LGBTQ community, First Nations, Homeless, Refugees you can’t help but feel you will be accepted for who you are.
Radical Hospitality. It is what they stand for and what my kids are learning in Sunday school. Gratitude. Breathe in breathe out. Love. God is Love. Peace be with you. Also with you.
It’s a place that is safe. A place that me and my children would feel safe if they were gay or transgender, where they could bring friends who are. It’s a place that my brown husband doesn’t stand out. It’s a place where women lead and speak and are valued as equals. Where people are encouraged to share their gifts as art rather than obligation.
Is it perfect? Of course not. That’s the beauty. It’s not perfect. It’s a place where imperfection is welcomed. It’s different enough than the churches I grew up in that all my real or imagined expectations of perfection can be laid to rest.
I still cringe when a baby cries because I remember feeling like my baby’s noises weren’t welcomed in church. I worry that my girls being fidgety will draw dirty looks or that someone is frowning at my colouring and maybe they are, but between a church that strives to be a safe place for everyone and my personal realization that it’s ok to be who we are; I think we’ve found a soft spot to land for a bit.