A couple of nights ago I ran into a pastor whom I have done a couple of projects with before. Since I left the ministry, I have experienced a few such encounters with “ex-colleagues”. Without exception, those encounters had happened as follows:
First, The person tried extremely hard to pretend not to see me. I once was eating in a small diner, a ministry couple I knew walked in and sat down in the next booth, literally less than an arms-length to my right. They looked over, saw me and (I am not making this up, I swear!) proceeded to bury their faces into the menus. After they put their menus down (finally!) and ordered, they locked eyes with each other as they talked, careful not to glance my way. I decided to end the awkwardness by calling out their names and said hi. What followed was the worst acting job I have ever seen as they were “surprised” that I was there.
Then, the person would go to great lengths to make the encounter as brief as possible. When I ran into that pastor couple of nights ago, I extended my hand and said hi. The person (Again, I’m not making this up) shook my hand very briefly, and walked right past me, without stopping.
Finally, and again this has happened every time so far. The person would make a vague promise about getting together, while they hurriedly backed away from me. “Let’s have lunch some time”, “I’ll call you and have coffee”, “let’s chat sometime”. Of course, none of those promised lunches and dinners and coffee chats had happened. Not once.
Every one of those encouters hurt, of course. It hurts when people whom you once worked with now try to pretend you don’t exist. But during my more clear-headed moments, I reflected back on my whole experience and I realized perhaps there is an important realization here:
As a church, we are not good with people.
Sure, we want people. All kinds of people. We want capable people to run our committees, loving people to teach our kids, generous people to support our budgets, musical people to lead our services, and so on. But when people make mistakes and stumble, in other words, when people actually, simply behave like people, we don’t know what to do with them.
I don’t attend church anymore. But deep inside, there is a longing to belong somewhere. If I ever go to church again, all the things that were important for me to find in a church won’t apply anymore. I don’t think I will care much if the teaching is fantastic, or if the music is polished, or if there is a great Sunday School program, etc. I simply want to go somewhere where I will be treated as a person. A place where people recognize that we are no better or no worse than one another. A place that acknowledges the reality of our sinfulness but at the same time respects, honors and celebrates the dignity of our personhood. A place that we can share the brokenness in each of our stories, and at the same time look forward to the healing and redemption that may come as we turn the pages together…
“sometimes you wanna go
where everybody knows your name;
and they’re always glad you came…
you wanna go where people know
that people are all the same
you wanna go where everybody knows your name
you wanna go where people know
our troubles are all the same
you wanna go where everybody knows your name…”