I sat with a man I’ll call Diego at a recent gathering of a newly launched church. The church is gathering at a local rehab center. Residents join with people from around the community for worship, conversation, relationship building, prayer and fun. The rehab center residents invite family and staff to be a part of the gathering, and community members invite friends and family from the area to bless folks in the rehab center and be blessed by their fine company. It’s all about being the church in the community with people who are frequently forgotten and alone.
Diego is about sixty-years old. He is conversant and physically active, but needs ongoing care because of a moderate mental disability. As we sat together, he asked if I worked for a car dealer. I answered, “No, I work for the church.”
Diego replied, “I hate church.”
I said, “You do?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, “I hate church.”
I discovered that Diego hated church because both of his parents and his brother had their funerals at church. Diego bid farewell to his caregivers and loved ones at church. Because of those deaths, he could no longer live in his nice blue house or have a dog. He was now in a more sterile environment with people who were not family. Yes, he hated church.
But he liked our gatherings. He listened to God’s Word. He prayed the Lord’s Prayer. He sang along with the songs he knew. He ate snacks and joined in our group activity. He also liked Jesus. I asked him if he did, and he said yes.
Diego’s mindset may help us understand how the church needs to approach our changing culture. Inviting people into existing institutional church structures may create barriers or alienate some people who need to hear the Gospel but will never walk into a church. But meeting the community in its comfort zone and on its turf may uncover a receptivity to the Good News that we otherwise would have never known. It may help them love what the church really is. That’s what Diego loves. My hope is that many others in the community will, too.
By: Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C