Monday, October 08, 2012

Part Four... The Church Saga Continues

What I didn't say in the piece about finding our house was that Steve had suggested that we find a church first and then find a house close enough for us to get back and forth easily and quickly. What I didn't say in that earlier piece was that our new home was less than two miles from our new church.

Within a week of arriving in Charlotte, we were up to our necks in church activity.
Certainly, I was.
Morning services in English and Spanish as well as Sunday School on Sundays.
Evening services on Sundays.
AWANA children's activities for the little ones on Wednesday nights.
I attended a Bible study in Spanish on Wednesday nights.
I began to attend Saturday morning prayer meetings - at 6 am.
I began to teach women's Bible studies in Spanish on Saturdays at 8 am.
I was asked to serve as translator for the pastor of the Spanish congregation, first at the Wednesday night Bible studies and then on Sunday mornings. On a weekly basis, I stood next to the pastor, either in a classroom or in the pulpit, and translated from Spanish to English. Line by line. Verse by verse. Statement by statement. For more than seven years.

I felt as comfortable and happy in my new church as a pig feels in fresh mud. Rolling around, happy, satisfied, engaged, working hard, and having fun, I couldn't imagine how my church life could get any better.

It didn't get better. It got overwhelming. All-consuming. Exhausting. Demanding. Guilt-producing. No matter how much I did, how much time I spent in the big pink building, how many documents I translated for people, how many classes I taught, how many hours I spent listening to stories, writing letters of recommendation, and showing up for parties, meetings, services, and gatherings of all sorts, it was never enough. There was always something else to do, someplace else to be, someone else to give something to. It wore me out. It wore me down.

The jokes told from the pulpit at the expense of women didn't help. Nor did the frequent statements that insulted, belittled, and condemned gay people and "liberals." Being reminded regularly that women could sing, translate, and teach children, but could never and would never be allowed to preach, pray, or teach in any church gathering that included adult men - that wounded me profoundly every time I heard it.* The wisdom of women, our words, our experiences, our understanding of God, faith, love, community, and the Bible was fine to share with other women, but men did not need to hear what we had to say. There were those who believed that that's what God thought as well.

Then on November 15, 2008, our lives changed forever when our daughter was hospitalized for the first time. Seventeen days the first time. Fourteen days the second time.

Apart from sporadic responses to emails I sent out requesting prayer for our daughter, the profound silence, the lack of visitation, the dearth of phone calls, and non-existent "Jesus-with-skin-on" presence of the leadership of Calvary Church during our time of deepest crisis shocked my family to the core. I feared we would never recover from the pain of their silence and absence.

I am glad to say that we did recover. Some of the kindest, funniest, best educated, hardest working people I've ever known came to our rescue. While our family struggled to find its footing on the new life journey that we were embarking on, several of the women of the Spanish-speaking congregation brought us meals, cleaned our home, called, texted, emailed, and came to visit regularly. Some of them continue to express their love for us even though we left the church two years ago. As it turns out, "the church" is the people, the women with their open arms, generous spirits, weeping eyes, and enormous hearts. "The church" never fell silent. It was only the dudes in charge who did that.

With the help of those dear Latina women, the love of other friends and family, and the soul-affirming knowledge that God never turned away from us, we have recovered. As a family, we are stronger.

As a woman of faith, a friend, a mother, a wife, a daughter and sister, I am stronger today than at any other time in my life.

Who knew that leaving that church, a church that I loved passionately for six years and then resented even more passionately for two more years, would be the best thing that ever happened to my faith?

*One notable exception - one year, I was asked to give "a brief devotional" for the Spanish congregation on Mother's Day. The message I wrote was read and approved of ahead of time. I was never asked to speak independently at any church service again, nor has any other woman been asked, to my knowledge.

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