I write on behalf of the church today. Not that the church needs any saving word from me. The church is of God and will be the church until the final curtain falls. But I’d like to humbly write some good words about the church: not the Methodist Church, or the Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian or any other specific branded or non-branded church. I want to give thanks for the church, period.
The church has plenty of critics outside and inside. And though some of the criticism is inflated, much is deserved. This week the Catholics and the Southern Baptists have gotten bad press because of past predatory sexual abuse. But we Methodists have had more than our share of bad publicity, too, and so have the rest of the lot.
Even so, I am an unabashed lover of the church. I remember hearing Barbara Brokoff proclaim, “I like worship even when it’s bad worship!” I am most of the time in that camp. I love the church even when — or in spite of the fact that — it can be very wrong, self-righteous, etc.
The church has been a part of my life for going on 70 years. One of my earliest images of life is of being a toddler in a sanctuary in little Cicero, Ind., that probably felt to me about the size of St. Peter’s in Rome. It was the largest building this 2-year-old had ever seen. It was awesome, mysterious and captivating. I’ve felt that way about the church almost continually ever since.
The church poured its waters of baptism over me. The church taught me to sing hymns of faith and led me to understand you could sing them with Paul and Silas in prison. The church gave me a chance to interact with other children and youths in Bible School and Church Camp. The church allowed me intergenerational opportunities to see adults as positive role models. And in spite of the heinousness of sexual predators in church and the disastrous consequences for their victims, the church has shown me repeatedly the kindness, goodness and faith of adults.
The church taught me to memorize the Bible and to learn the prayer of Jesus. The church helped me understand my call to ordained ministry, educated me, helped me pay for my education and ordained me to a life of word, sacrament, service and order. The church opened doors for service and sacrifice that would never have otherwise been opened.
The church helped me teach faith to my children, gave me pastors who officiated at my wedding, mentored me in the faith, stood with the downtrodden and encouraged me to trust I was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. I could not have contemplated or known these things without the church.
Jesus saw fit to establish the church; the apostles and martyrs saw fit to die for it; pastors and laypersons through the centuries have seen fit to build and love it. I am proud to humbly add my name to this list. Thanks be to God for the church. I hope you can feel the same.