It’s funny how many things Christ preached against continue today in the Church no matter what Christ has taught us to believe and how to act. Today, so often in church there are still those who would rather marginalize people or cast them out instead of sitting down and learning who they are and see them the same way as God sees them, as His beautiful children. Today there are those who are still no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ time who continue to look down at those who simply don’t fit the mold they want them to fit. So, if they don’t fit their mold they are unwelcome and treated no different than Lepers of Christ’s time.
I personally can say that I know how that feels, how it feels to be treated as someone that simply doesn’t fit a mold or live up to standards that Christ would never impose upon His flock. It’s a shame that it continues to this very day.
Just six months ago, I had to leave behind a parish that I loved for 12 years, had to leave behind a loving and welcoming church family. Most people at my old parish tried to live and love as Christ asks us to live and accepted all who came to their parish. In fact it was as if they could immediately sense when someone new was in the church. There was never a person who was overlooked, all were welcomed into the flock and encouraged to become part of the family. After so many years of this, you think that no matter where you go, it should be the same, but how sad that this is not true and I know this first hand.
Since my husband and I moved to Central Oregon, we’ve attended St. Thomas church faithfully for the six months we’ve been here and in that six months, not one single person has ever acknowledged us let alone held out a welcoming hand. Not once did anyone introduce themselves to us. It was a lonely and very unwelcoming feeling. A far cry from the church we had left behind. Within the first week of me attending my beloved parish of 12 years, I was approached by several different people introducing themselves to me and welcoming me to their church. Within a couple of months I was involved with a variety of different ministries and it continued until the day I left. But here, nothing. So, I decided perhaps I should reach out and maybe that would change things.
After talking to the priest I decided to join the choir since I had been in my other church’s choir for nearly six years and it was my favorite ministry. When I approached them to inquire about joining they seemed nice enough and so I went to my first practice and all seemed well. I sang at my first Mass and all seemed well. In fact, I finally felt like I was part of this church now that I had found a “niche” for myself. However, that good feeling did not last long.
A few days after the Saturday Mass that I had sang in I received an email from the choir director asking me to give her a call. Not thinking anything could be wrong I called her. The call was not what I would have expected and it left me speechless and totally humiliated. This is what this righteous Christian woman had to say and I quote:
“Well, Patti, I’m not sure where to start but I guess I’ll just come out and be blunt about it. When you came to practice prior to Mass on Saturday, I noticed a slight hint of cigarette smoke on you. It didn’t smell as if you had just smoked a cigarette or anything, but more like second hand smoke. However, even that bothers me and some of the others in this choir. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do want you in the choir, but, the problem here is that you must come up with a solution to get rid of this problem. Now, if you can’t come up with a suitable solution then perhaps you should consider finding a different ministry in this church. Oh, and by the way, however did your other choir put up with it?!”
Basically what this “holier than thou” Christian woman was saying is that I needed to avoid being around any cigarettes prior to coming to church, which meant that if my husband was around any part of the day prior to me coming to choir that I needed to stay away from him. Really?! Are you serious? I was speechless to say the least and got off the phone as soon as I could because I could no longer stand the sound of her condescending voice. A few minutes after the phone call I came up with my solution and emailed her.
“As for coming up with a solution to something that seems to be your problem, I have found the solution and that solution would be to never return to your choir again. Even if there were a different solution that would “allow” me to remain in your group, I would never want to be part of a group that treats people in such a manner. And as for my old choir? They were true Christians and they loved me for who I was and what I could offer and they didn’t care if I smoked or not or if I were exposed to second hand smoke! You could learn a little something from them and how to be a true Christian.
I must say that in the past six months that I have attended your church I have found it to be the most unfriendly and unwelcoming church that I’ve ever attended and this was the icing on the cake and I do not believe that I will ever return. No one deserves to be made to feel so unwelcome and not good enough as you have made me feel.”
Church has meant a lot to me for a very long time and now I feel that I’ve lost even that. It’s difficult to try worship in a place where you do not feel welcome and feel like a leper or outcast. It challenges both my resolve and faith to be cast out in such a manner.
I pray that anyone who reads this learns a lesson from it. Stop and think about how you might treat others in your own church. Do you notice new faces? Do you attempt to help those who appear to be new to feel welcome in God’s house? Or do you judge them before you even know them? Do you cast them aside because they don’t fit your mold?
God’s Church was not established just for certain people. We don’t have the right to pick and choose who we want in the family of God, all should be welcome and none should be shunned and cast aside!