September 18 was National Back to Church Sunday.
It's OK. I missed it, too.
A lot of folks I know -- people who would describe themselves as "Christian" or "believer" and those who would not -- struggle with the idea of church. They're gun shy.
The idea of joining a community where they might not fit in, where they could be judged unkindly, where there is an unspoken (and sometimes clearly verbalized) set of cultural norms and expectations that they'd have a hard time living up to, is daunting.
Church is supposed to be a safe place. A refuge in the storm. A haven of not just acceptance, but love. A sanctuary of grace.
Too often, for too many of us, it is not safe, loving, welcoming, or full of grace. That's because church is a human institution and as faulted, imperfect and maddening as human beings themselves.
Earlier this year, I wrote in this space about finding a spiritual home after many years of eschewing church and community. Finding Little Church was a great surprise to me and one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I wrote, in part:
For more than 15 years, I didn't go to church (except for lots of visits in my professional capacity). When I was in my early 20s, the Episcopal church I attended regularly split. Factions formed, sides were taken, harsh words were spoken. A spiritual tug of war ensued and left the community in tatters. It was awful, traumatic -- the worst that church has to offer.
I love Jesus and all that he told us to do and be while he walked among us in the flesh. But I no longer trusted his followers to not behave appallingly. I'd had enough of Christians shooting their own. So I left.
In hindsight, that was pretty shortsighted. We are believers, but we are also human. We stumble, fall, and drag others down with us. We wallow in our own hypocrisy and look to fellow Christians rather than the One we should emulate as the only perfect example of how to be fully human and completely faithful.
After more than a decade of lurking in the narthex, a couple of years ago I tiptoed into the sanctuary of a small Episcopal parish in suburban Chicago and found safe harbor. I was surprised to learn that this parish had suffered a split several years earlier, too. But what remained were not sharp edges and bitterness from the acrimony that had shattered the community like a cheap mirror. Instead, I found the light of God's love refracted even more beautifully by the cracks and imperfections.
Perhaps that is why I got a lump in my throat when I watched the promotional video (above) about National Back to Church Sunday.
Messaging is a tricky thing but man, did they get it right.
Listen to how church is described in the video:
- a place for new beginnings
- imperfect people welcome
- people are priceless
- right where God wants you
- come as you are
- doubts welcome
"See, it's not about a religion. It's about a relationship. So please, come to my church, where nobody's perfect, where beginners are welcome, where socks are optional, but GRACE is required. Where forgiveness is offered, where hope is alive, and where it's OK to not be OK. Really."
Amen and Hallelujah!
That is a message worth sharing, an invitation that begs to be shared. That is the good news. That is the Gospel.
Thanks be to God.