The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 20: Church People
Okay, so I am mindful that this episode has the potential of being very long, there is so much to say about ‘church people’, but I’ll do my best to encapsulate a great many thoughts for you today. Well, this week, I asked my Facebook friends to complete this sentence:
Church people are ____________,
and in the many, many comments and private messages I received, I heard from them, and I’m so grateful. I wonder what your answer would be to that question: Church people are __________. Hmmm. Well, the answers I received on Facebook were just as varied as you might imagine. Our experiences of church and church people are as unique as people are, but there were some themes I noticed, and I’ll add my own experiences into the mix here, too.
There were those who had glowing things to say about ‘church people’, that they’re friendly, hopeful, a source of comfort and support, “faith filled”, welcoming, and moral. And there were others who had less favorable things to say: that ‘church people’ were judgmental, lost, trying, struggling to find community, or what one friend called to my utter delight, “pains in the ass”. And oh, I get it.
I had follow-up questions for all of these people who responded, and I literally could have talked to each one of them for hours. Like the ones who said ‘church people’ were “committed” and “team players” – I wondered just what it is that ‘church people’ are committed to, and what our team goal is because honestly based on our words and actions, I am not really sure. Would everyone who goes to your local church agree on a shared goal? And what is it?
And then there was a group of people who were a bit more balanced in their responses. One said ‘church people’ are broken – I don’t think this is a negative response, I think all people probably are broken in some way (and here’s me raising my hand, by the way), but this answer resonated with me in light of Pope Francis’ description of the church as a field hospital. I do wonder whether most ‘church people’ would self-identify as ‘broken’ but maybe that’s another podcast. One friend said ‘church people’ are adapting, to which I’ll say, the smart ones are. One said they’re stubborn, and oh yes, we are, in all of the best and worst ways, probably. One said they’re judgey or a blessing, that they’ve met both kinds and yes, me too! One friend said, after a lot of thought, that ‘church people’ are capable of drawing people into relationship with God or in pushing them away from that relationship. And this resonated so much for me. Church people really do have so much power in that way, and I do wonder if we are using it well.
I noticed that many of the less rosy views of ‘church people’ came from those who do or have worked as employees of their churches, and this is important to note. As someone who falls into that category myself, I think it’s important for the public to know the toll that it takes on a non-clergy type of person to work in ministry. We see quite a bit of how the pieces get put together behind the scenes, and there is a lot is expected of us, and we have very little say in how things go. In addition to that, pastoral care is seldom if ever prioritized for non-clergy employees of churches. And this is another consequence of clericalism, and if you listen to this podcast, you already know I’m not a fan of clericalism, but also, this is not a healthy pattern for a church community.
But back to today’s topic. I believe there are two big takeaways from what I learned this week. One is that there probably is no word that describes all ‘church people’ accurately, though maybe my friend Michelle came the closest when she said they’re ‘everyday people’ – in other words, no better or worse than anyone else. But the other is the huge responsibility that ‘church people’ have – everyone from the laity to the Pope to be the Face of Jesus for others. Because the people who were saying all of those glowing things about ‘church people’ – well, they probably go to church with people who do and are exactly that for them, the Face of Jesus – kind, welcoming, friendly, joyful. So, how are you doing with that these days? And how about your parish or your church community? Because the days are gone when people can expect to go to church simply to check a box or get filled up for an hour a week. I do hope that we’ve passed the time when the standard is to ‘go to church’. Rather we should ‘be church’ for one another, wherever we go, and this is on everyone: you, me, our priests and ministers, everyone. As one friend accurately described, ‘church people’ are…dwindling. And if we can’t change our thinking on the roles and responsibilities of individual Christians in the Body of Christ, or on what it means to ‘be church’ instead of ‘go to church’ in this time, we may be surprised by what the next chapter will bring.
Artist Scott Erickson posted a beautiful drawing recently on Instagram, and it had a chapel in the top part of an hourglass, and the church is kind of on its side, sinking through the middle. and it’s becoming something else. In his caption Scott says “If you love the form, you have everything to lose. If you love what gives it its form, you’re free to receive whatever it’s turning into.” Ah, I love that. I’ll link to Scott’s post, plus many more resources for you in today’s show notes that might help you to consider what kind of a ‘church person’ you may want to be, especially as the Church is decidedly shifting. And as you consider that question, I’d love to tell you a little anecdote that greatly clarified my thinking recently.
A friend was relaying a story in a group I was in this week, and she prefaced it by saying she was not proud of how she handled this particular thing, which I won’t get into. But then she detailed the many ways that she was learning and adjusting in this situation, and how she wanted to love better and how she wanted to be the kind of person in this circumstance in which every variety of human, from any background would feel welcome and accepted. My friend was humble, willing to adapt, and her ultimate goal was love. And I don’t think she knew the weight of what she had said, or how her honest example affected all of us so deeply. As she finished her story, the group was quiet.
I was floored. In the wake of so much wondering and thinking about ‘church people’ this week, it came to me in a flash that the heart of a ‘church person’ ought to be… hospitable. Can you imagine if a typical ‘church person’ – in the pews or in leadership (remember we’re all the same”. But imagine if we humbly made room in our hearts and our lives for other people, especially those who are different from us, or if ‘church people’ were willing to change our thinking and to meet people where they are, in love? What if ‘love’ was our only goal?
Oh friend, there’d never be enough seats.
Thanks so much for listening. If you liked today’s podcast, would you please consider sharing it with a friend? And thanks to those who are subscribing, rating, and reviewing. That is really a big help, so thank you! As we close today, let’s say a prayer for all the ‘church people’.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Dear God, we want to reflect your love and compassion in all we are and in all we do, so help us to make space for others, especially those who are different from us, so that they can experience your kindness and care in our hospitable hearts. Thank you for the ‘church people’ who have done that for us, time and time again, and please bless them in their need today. Thank you that they’re Your hands, and that they are Your face for us.
And we pray all of this in the name of Jesus, amen.
Okay, my friend, thanks again for listening, and I’ll see you next time.