I remember the day I came into my favorite coffee shop and informed my then barely friend that I stopped going to church but wanted to go somewhere for Easter. I remember I sat across from him as he made me a warm latte, it was a cold day, and no one else was in the coffee shop at 7:35am. I can’t remember the exact date, but I know it happened in March of 2017 – not yesterday, but somehow, it’s stored in my memory clear as day.
Walking away from the Church was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. This girl grew up loving the Church – between serving, being, and leading, even in the most mundane of things, I knew I was part of the most sacred of moments. Just because something is sacred, doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I always had the most fun!
Until the day came. It didn’t come suddenly. I knew something was different when I saw a shift in the way that my brothers and sisters spoke of people who looked like me, or in some cases, a more painful approach, not even acknowledged people who looked like me. I saw stickers in the church parking lot supporting a man who threatened my livelihood, the livelihood of my family, and of millions of people that I don’t know by name, but knew that they mattered to God.
I spent most of 2017 asking hard questions, to my friends, to my family, to strangers, to my coworkers. I asked where my theology came from, and found that so much of what is taught as “just theology” came from mostly white men who had access to resources, academia and a platform that came with privilege. Don’t get me wrong, not all of it was bad. We wouldn’t have The Reformation without our European brothers, however, I wondered what happened to the theology of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8: 26-40) as he went back home. I wonder what Christianity looked like before colonialism and imperialism became a thing. Do we not believe that God is so incredibly powerful and kind that He wouldn’t be present in spaces we didn’t know about?
Somehow, in the midst of my questions, I ended up at a camping trip/conference in the fall of 2017 hosted by United Pursuit, and ran into a group of people who were asking the same questions. Many had walked away from our beloved Church (I say beloved because you don’t grieve something you don’t love or care about), yet somehow, us being together was still Church – now, isn’t that trippy?!
Here I was, broken, and still welcomed. Here I was, undocumented, and still welcome. Here I was, afraid, and still welcome. Here I was, the doubter, and still welcome. Here I was, the questioner, and still welcome. Here I was, not sure if I could hear from Holy Spirit anymore, and still welcome. Here I was, Peter inside the boat not willing to walk on water, and still welcome.
But that’s the thing about community, right? It changes you, and sometimes, it holds your hand as you step out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. The reality is that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for community, which weirdly enough, is the Church.
As the year progressed, I found myself in conversations where I was allowed to have all the questions, even if no one had any answers. I will never forget the moment I sat in front of my life coach and told him how much I was hurting because of the Church, but in the same moment, I will never forget when the words “I forgive you, Church” came out of my mouth. It wasn’t pretty, it was raw, in between tears and snot, with mumbled words only I could understand.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s an easy road. It’s not, because the Church in made out of people, including me, who are human and make a million mistakes. I cannot change the hearts of others, but I can follow Jesus. I have found His ways in the Sermon of the Mount. I have found His ways in the way He loved His friends even when they were all from different backgrounds, different political affiliations, and one even betrayed Him, so much so, that it cost Him his life. I found the ways of Jesus when He chose healing over the sword. I found the ways of Jesus when He took the time to listen to a criminal even as he hung on the Cross. I found the ways of Jesus when He called me by name and I never want to stop hearing His voice.
Today I sit in the same coffee shop where I first admitted that I walked away from Church, and even though I have headphones on, I’m surrounded by dear friends. I’m catching up on work, and in the biggest surprise of my life, my job is at a church I love. We’re not perfect, not in the slightest, and every time I walk into work I know I’m taking a risk, but that’s the beauty of faith, it requires risk.
I know many of my brothers and sisters don’t have this story, I know many are still wondering what their place in the Church is, and I wish I had an answer. I can’t say much, ’cause I don’t know your personal story, but I can tell you this: You are so loved and we’re not the same without you – not because of what you can bring to the table, but simply because of who you are. We may not say it enough, but the truth is we are also hurting you’re not here. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know so many of us are waiting with arms wide open. Jesus hasn’t forgotten you. He is with you.
I still have a million questions, and I know they’re valid questions, but now I get to process them from a place of forgiveness. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I know that in the in between spaces – I am unconditionally loved and so are you.