One question I (Jakob) started asking people when they come to NorthHaven for benevolence needs is where they go to church. For a long time I neglected to ask, because I didn’t want to come across judgy. I changed my mind though.
I respect the reasons people do not go to church. I even admire some of them, but I still believe everyone’s lives benefit from a loving, healthy spiritual community.
If a person tells me they do not go to church, I tell them the same thing I just wrote y’all. I try not to be preachy, but I do believe that in life’s biggest challenges- the challenges that bring people to our door in need- a spiritual community can help us get through them. So I’ve started saying so.
If a person answers that they do go to church, then I ask if they approached their own church for help. Sometimes they say yes but their own church wouldn’t help them. If the church who knows them the most said no, then that’s a conversation I want to have before handing out money. It doesn’t disqualify anyone, but it is cause to dig deeper.
A few weeks ago, a woman started crying when I asked her if she’d gone to her own church for help. She hadn’t. Why not? I asked. She was too embarrassed, she said. She didn’t want her church to know that she was one of “those people.”
The conversation was heartbreaking and made me question the way their church thought about poor people in general if this woman was so afraid to be identified as one. I grieved because she couldn’t be honest with her own church family about one of her greatest struggles- one that was in no way her fault.
I hope that she is wrong about her church. I hope that if she trusts her church with her real self and her real struggles, then she will be surprised by their understanding and grace. Maybe even their generosity. But sadly, she was probably right. I believed her and did everything we could to help her.
For a lot of people church isn’t the place to be vulnerable or poor in body or spirit. But if not here, then where? Where else can we find others committed to living an honest human experience with integrity? Where else can we find fellow travelers on this difficult road who believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God is the mystery and the beauty at the center of it all?
That’s why I loved Lynndi Cox’s prayer so much this Sunday (10/17) in worship. Worship is a place to sing to God with a joyful heart, of course, but lament and grief have just as much right to that space as anything else. It all belongs in the sanctuary of God and at the foot of the cross.
Honest church community is work. It requires a lot from us that only God can give us, but as Lynndi articulates so well, it’s worth it to keep pressing in.
Here’s her prayer:
“Lord, last time I was up here praying out loud in our church, sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, I asked you to help us to reflect on the ways in which we relied on and trusted in the broken systems, routines, and structures of this world and to help us to trust more in you. Whoops! So, here we are, still very much in the midst of a global pandemic, with the broken systems fully exposed. Our lives have been dramatically adjusted. Many of us are sitting with a lot of anger, frustration, and anxiety. Our friendships, family relationships, and patience have been tested by the events of the last few years. I can’t speak for everyone, but for some sitting here today (or at home), the experience has been isolating. It has been hard to cling to faith and hope. It has been hard to keep showing up, to keep reaching out to others and to you. So, today, I ask you to help us to find the strength to keep showing up. To keep trying. To keep connecting. To keep listening for your voice calling us in the night. Then, when we hear you, give us the courage to respond and act according to your will.
Thank you for the gift that is NorthHaven. May we continue to be a community that loves, encourages, and supports each other as we try to follow Christ’s example.