Oh, dear church

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Recently, I listened to an eight-episode podcast (like an internet radio show) called “Oh Dear God.”

Done by two young, thirtysomething women, they both grew up in the Christian faith.

Today they like some of Christianity, but not all of it. Same goes for their feelings about the church.

The women met at camp -- they love church camp -- and now they’re comedians who live in Los Angeles.

The premise of their podcast: They invited eight people, all young like themselves, to talk about their experiences with the church and faith growing up and their experiences now.

They also asked each guest to write a letter to the American church as a whole.

One guest, Nina, said when she was a new Christian, she went to a church where you could send anonymous questions to the pastor.

In her question, she referred to the Holy Spirit as an “it” instead of a person.

She said the pastor read her question out loud and then “angrily annihilated and tore it apart.”

Nina said even though no one knew it was her question, she felt embarrassed and ashamed and ran out crying --  and never went back to that church. She said she remained a Christian for a long time after that, and that the memory is still seared in her mind.

In her letter she wrote: “So many churches say to come as you are, and I would encourage them to mean it. I think when they say, ‘Come as you are,’ they really mean, ‘Come as Christianity wants you to be already living.’”

She said when she looks back on the good times at church, she remembers thinking, “Oh, maybe this is what heaven is going to be like.” She said those were the times she felt most loved.

She wrote, “Nobody should run out of a church crying and ashamed. They should run into them with all of their junk and they shouldn’t feel scared to hide it...I miss church, but I don’t miss trying to fit into the mold of what everyone thought I should be.”

The other podcast guests had similar things to say. They didn’t so much have a problem with Jesus as they did with people.

Sadly, theirs is a common story.

So, on behalf of the American church, I’d like to write a letter to them.

Dear young people who grew up with Sunday school and VBS and AWANA, who learned scripture by singing it, who marched in place singing about “Father Abraham” and his many sons and jumping while singing, “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, praise ye the Lord!” --

What happened that you now no longer think of church as a welcoming place or one that’s relevant to your lives?

Why did so many of you leave? Is it really better “out there” without the church?

Do you ever miss it?

I get that church is imperfect and that some churches are pretty messed up, but that’s only because churches are made up of people who are imperfect and messed up.

I also get that some people have been deeply hurt by churches and still bear the scars. 

But I promise you, not all churches are like that.

At any church, as in any family, we’ve got crazy aunties and know-it-all big brothers, kids who misbehave.

However, we’ve also got people who are really good at holding you when you cry, who take you into their homes and their hearts, who sit by your bedside when you’re sick --- or dying.

Church is a place where everyone is equally in need of forgiveness, mercy and grace, pastors and parishioners alike, and we find it together at the foot of the Cross of Christ.

Church shouldn’t be a place that you outgrow, but a place that helps you grow, and often it’s the hard places where the most growth takes place. And it’s in the hard places where people need each other the most.

We were never meant to walk the road of faith alone.

My pastor always ends his emails by encouraging people to come to church, ending with: “It won’t be the same without you.” 

It’s true. We need each other -- and we need you.

As imperfect and messed up as it is, church is home. It’s family, and we have a good Father who welcomes each of us, just as we are.

I hope you’ll come back. 

I’m praying that you will.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927  or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.