Church has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the church, my parents were always involved in church ministry at a deep level and our weekly routine flowed around activities linked to the church.
Since moving to Chicago I have struggled with finding a church and more importantly, finding the point of attending a church regularly. Somewhere along the way in my journey I have become disillusioned with church and religion in general. Yes, I believe in God, but I am not sure how to find him amidst the rituals, rhetoric and relevance that personify organized religion to me.
At work last week, one of my patients illustrated to me a perfect example of why I am struggling with church at this time in my life. This patient was a young woman, a single mom to two small children who is in the end stages of a devastating cancer. During our visit she confessed to me that she is too sick and fatigued to make good meals for her children and feels guilty with always having frozen lasagna. I asked if there was any family to help her and she said no, she was on her own. Digging deeper I asked about any other organizations she was involved in that might be able to help her with home cooked meals.
Her response was this: "My church was sending me meals, but the lady who was in charge of it said I was too much of a burden, so I don't ask them for meals anymore."
My sadness at hearing this was matched only by my anger. Of course I know that not all churches are like that, but what this story illuminated for me is what a poor job many churches do of actually DOING anything. Right there in that congregation was a woman in desperate need of home cooked meals for her kids and her need was viewed as too much of a burden, at least to the particular woman in charge of that ministry.
My patients story reminded me of all the reasons I am frustrated with churches. I am frustrated with the huge buildings, the lavish interiors, the concert style worship services. I am frustrated with the three point messages, the color bulletins, the souped up visual effects. But, I think on a deeper level what I am really frustrated with is myself and my own inaction and lack of DOING something to meet the needs of the truly needy around me.
I have not given up on church. I will continue to seek a church home and more to the point, seek what place I have in these less then perfect institutions that are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I can recognize that I have no right to criticize unless I am also willing to roll up my sleeves and do what needs to be done, to take on the burden of those in need and to show love to those I have an opportunity to touch, through the ministry of a church or at times in spite of it.