As I have talked about my past, I have said that I spent much of my 20s and 30s not attending church. Here is a summary of the fuller story, and why I want to share it with you.
I grew up in a neighborhood of Saginaw where most of the people living there were African-American. My parents refused to be a part of the “White Flight” to the suburbs. When I graduated high school, I was one of 5 white students in a graduating class of over 300. So all of my high school friends were black.
My home church was built in what was the German neighborhood in Saginaw, but became an African-American community. One Sunday before worship in my home church, one of the leaders of the church was complaining about something done to the church grounds, and referred to the people of the surrounding neighborhood by a horribly insulting term. I was so upset that a leader of a church would use that term that I decided I didn’t want to be a part of a church that felt that way. So, I stopped going. I only attended worship when I couldn’t avoid my Mom’s nagging.
I still believed; I was involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in college and went to services with friends when invited. I just didn’t want to go to a church that I considered to be hypocrites.
The longer I stayed away, the more I felt unworthy. If I turned my back on the Church and God, then God must have done the same with me. When we don’t think we are cared about, let alone loved, it’s easy to stay away. But I was blessed because my Mother never gave up. Every week, she’d ask me if I was coming to church. Every week, I’d tell her, “We’ll see.” It’s not easy to tell your Mom, “No.”
During the time that I worked for the schools in Saginaw, I began to coach high school football. I went to a coaching clinic in Toledo, Ohio one weekend. While I was waiting to look at some blocking sleds, I started to talk to the young lady staffing the FCA booth. She gave me a copy of their New Testament devotional, and she told me to read it. I stuck it in my bag and went to look at blocking sleds. When the speaker I drove down to hear was delayed, and I had an hour to kill, I looked in my bag, and pulled out that Bible.
I cheated and started to read from the back, reading the short, named letters I found out are called the Pastoral Epistles. I remember reading from 1 John: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1.8-9 NRSV)
After reading those letters, especially the letters from John, I started to read John’s Gospel, and while everybody quotes John 3:16, it’s the next verse that spoke to me: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 NRSV)
When I left the clinic on Saturday evening, I went to bed early so I could go to church that next Sunday. When I slid into the pew beside my mom, she asked, “What are you doing here?” I told her that she invited me, so I thought I’d come.
If you don’t feel loved or welcomed at church, please know that you are. God loves and cares for you. Sometimes those of us in the church don’t act as we should. Please don’t hold our human errors against God. God will forgive us for acting foolish. I hope you can do the same. I spent years trying to punish the church and only shortchanged myself.
If you have walked away from the church because of something someone did, I apologize, and invite you to come back.
If you know someone who has left the church, or never was a part of a church, feel free to share this with them. Invite them to join you in worship. And keep asking.
May we remember to share God’s love, especially to those who feel unwelcome.