January 26, 2015

An Uncomfortable Home?

At the small Episcopal church in San Antonio where I grew up, everyone knew me and I knew everyone. I felt completely at home every Sunday. That experience of being completely accepted and welcomed is part of the reason I am still part of the Episcopal Church.

Yet, I am occasionally reminded that church isn’t always supposed to be a comfortable place. At panel discussion during last week's Trinity Institute conference, the Rev. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of Riverside Church, reminded attendees that church should not be comfortable. Our churches should be “communities of conversion,” she said, not places that simply confirm our beliefs and biases.

This was one of several conversations I was a part of this past week about race and economic inequality. In these conversations I’ve been reminded again and again how segregated our churches are, not only in terms of race but also economics and politics.

It’s not hard to see how this has happened. We all feel more at comfortable in a homogenous church. It’s easier. Spending hours every week with strangers and people with vastly different experiences can be exhausting.

How do we reconcile the uncomfortable truths of the Gospel, its call to love and serve and be in communion with those who are different from ourselves, with our desire to feel at ease in our own community?

During another panel discussion at the Trinity Institute conference, Dr. John A. Powell, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, added that the church should be a home, a place where you are loved and accepted.

Home is a place where you know people and where you feel like you belong, but that doesn’t mean you agree with everyone. It doesn’t even mean you all look the same or come from the same background. A home isn’t filled with strangers, but neither is it filled with people just like you.

So here are two questions to ask ourselves about our churches:

  • Is my church filled with people who all look and think the same?
  • Is my church filled with strangers?

If the answer is yes to either of those questions, then we have to consider both how to connect with people different from ourselves and how we can make them (and ourselves) feel like they belong. Answering these questions will be a life-long process and an essential part of creating a Christian community.

As the Rev. Amy Butler said later in the discussion, “We have to know each other. We have to know each other’s stories.” A community that allows us to grow and challenges us is one in which we know each other and feel that we can speak the truth to each other. We need to know and love the people with whom we can easily relate as well as those with whom we have almost nothing in common. This is how change and growth happens.

We might not always feel comfortable in such a church, but we will always feel like it is our home.

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe via email or RSS, using the grey box on the upper right.