A few weeks ago I talked to a resident, Sandra, looking for some affordable housing. Our conversation extended over a couple of days and revealed that she, and her son, were victims of some very serious domestic abuse - her ex serving 5 years for felony assault. I invited her to lunch in the hopes of getting to know her better.
When I picked her up she invited me into her house. The outside was lovely, but inside the entire home was gutted: no stove, no real furniture, plywood floors, sheets hanging instead of curtains, etc. She lives entirely from meals she can make in an old microwave and sleeps on a pad on the floor. Obviously the financial need is great.
The first thing I noticed was that she lived across the street from one of the founding women of my former church, JD. My first thought was that I should call JD and try to get the church folk involved in some fund raising/furniture collecting venture. And so I asked Sandra she knew JD? She looked at me and asked “Do you like her?” And my honest answer was ‘I do not trust her. Although she was always nice to me, I know she did a lot of crap to other folk she did not like.’ Sandra then went on to tell me that JD had told her that “the police coming to her house so often looked bad for the neighborhood; why couldn’t she replace the window sheet with some drapes as it was bringing down the property values; and if she couldn’t live with her husband, why didn’t she just pitch a tent in the back yard?”
Okay, maybe the fund-raising thing was out. Gotta love those christian folk.
We continued onto lunch, chatting and getting to know each other.
One story she has telling me was how she had befriended an elderly woman (also a member of my church) years ago, who had once gotten stuck in a snow bank near her house. Sandra made her some tea and drove her home. They became friends. The elderly woman is now in a nursing home, and Sandra continues to call and visit her. At one point, the elderly woman had invited Sandra to attend the church and Sandra mentioned this to her neighbor, JD. And JD responded to Sandra, “why would you go to our church? You are not our kind.”
I asked “what’s not our kind?” And Sandra responded that she wasn’t sure. “Being a victim of domestic abuse or being Jewish.” Which made my eyes water. And then I told her my story with that church and how one interim pastor imagined I was obsessed with her, she complained to the elders, who wrote me a letter stating they would expel me from the church, never told me the reasons why, and refused to ever meet with me to discuss it.
Sandra shook her head through this whole story - with equal parts of belief and disbelief. And then she said “let’s go to the church and sit together. Right up front.” Again I laughed and said that I would never walk into that church again. When I dropped her back home she again asked me if I wanted to go to the church. When I said no thanks, she laughed and said “chicken.”
But I have been thinking about all the stories I have heard about people who have been rejected by this church. A woman I work with told me she attended once and was told she was not properly dressed. A gay person left when the interim pastor circulated a flyer about a discussion whether gay folks should have a role in the church. Another friend left just in disgust with what happened to me. The secretary who is a single mother was fired just weeks before xmas because apparently after years of doing her job, she was no longer qualified.
5 years ago the average weekly attendance at this church was almost 200 people. Last year it was barely over 100. Obviously there are a lot of stories out there.
How cool would it be to gather these folks and freep the church? Just assemble all the misfits who didn’t quite make the grade, who were made to feel unwanted and less than. We could walk in together, spread ourselves across the pews and just take back the church.