I’m currently reading, “The Unknown American Revolution” by Gary B. Nash. Lately, my passion for all things 18th-century has spilled over to hearing the stories from those often overlooked in history: the housewife, the enslaved, the Indigenous, etc. I am only a few pages in and already I have had the experience of underlining many sections and saying out loud as I read, “yes…oh my gosh…so true.”
The tagline of the book calls the birth of democracy “unruly” and a “struggle” to create America. I can’t help but feel we are recreating America and the struggle is real — and unruly. I had such an unruly moment in the rural church that I serve part time. Yes, you read correctly. Unruly and church in the same sentence.
Some context here before I talk about this unruly moment. The church I serve doesn’t not reflect the community it is in. The congregation is white, retired and mostly wealthy. Many are summer members who come to enjoy their lake homes in the Adirondacks. When I first came there as pastor I began opening my eyes to see what mission we had as a body of Christ. After church one day, I made a trip to a Walmart in a neighboring town. It was then I realized something startling. There were people in the store that didn’t look anything like those who sat in the pews that morning. I turned to my husband and said I had my work cut out for me. Here is where the church needs to be, I said, with my arms outstretched in the Walmart parking lot. My husband looked at me and replied that if I began getting the real community coming to the church, I would no longer have a job as pastor. “They don’t want to be a church. They are happy with their club,” he observed. I refused to believe him. But a few years later, with many a sermon preached on feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, welcoming the stranger — even daring to say the “p” word (privilege) and dipping my toes into the race issue — I am tired, frustrated and sad. Do I continue to preach to what seems to be deaf ears? Am I wasting my time there?
Then yesterday happened. The unruly moment in the brewing revolution of trying to recreate a little rural church. I had just finished preaching on James’ words of how our tongues can be a horrible weapon. I talked about the words we use and how the phrases we have grown up with can be hurtful as many of them stem from slavery. I have even caught myself a few times, now realizing that saying “low man on the totem pole” was not the right appropriate. I found it fascinating to learn of the genesis of the words we use and, if it was changing my heart, well, maybe another heart would change.
Our worship had moved to the prayers of the people. It was then a member raised his hand and stated he wanted to ask a question of me. “Why are they trying to erase my history?”
“They” who? “Erase” what history? What is really going on with this member?
These were the questions swirling in my head as I began formulating an answer that would be pastoral. But when I didn’t answer quick enough for this member, a surly smile came across his face and he said, “It’s okay. You don’t know.”
Oh, but I do know. I do know the condescending male attitude towards a woman in power. I do know that insecurity and fear behind that question. And I knew that I wasn’t going to stand on that chancel of a church and use my position of power to tout “answers” or boast of “what I know” because I know too many people like that, and it is not glorifying to God. Rather, we are to seek wisdom from above.
I am not sure all that I said, but I said a lot. I went into “our” (white) history and how it is not being erased but that it is time for the other voices that have been silenced and silent to be heard. For me, it’s all about enriching our histories. I then said something I never thought I would say behind the lectern: “God sent his Son Jesus to this messed up society to challenge the status quo…to upset the apple cart. And it seems to me too many Presbyterians are fighting to upright that cart and get the apples back in. Well, my friends, the apples need to roll.”
In that moment, I didn’t see a member of church being unruly. I that moment I saw the depravity of the world we are living in now. I saw the depravity of our churches. I heard my husband’s prophetic words, “You can’t change a church culture that doesn’t want to change.” I realized, too, it wasn’t just church culture spending so much of its time putting apples back into the cart. It was everywhere.
It was an unruly day in the pulpit. But there was a moment of grace I had to chuckle over later as I went on my prayer walk and listened to the choir of crickets praising God, inviting me to join their praises. Thank goodness, I thought, that this little church had not been quick to embrace live streaming, because my rebuttal to this member probably would have gone viral.
My friends, let the apples roll.