Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Memorable Sunday

Twelve years ago this week, I drove to Charlotte for the first time with my mother and my two young children. Steve had already started working here, and we came down to find a house and make arrangements for our imminent move. I found this house on the morning of my only day of looking at houses with our real estate agent. Steve met us for lunch and we came back here that afternoon. He loved it as much as I do. We put in a bid only to find out ten minutes later that someone else had also bid on it. What??? In the end, we bought this house, and the other couple that bid on the house that day bought the house across the street from us two years later.

On the Sunday of the first weekend in October of 2002, we visited a church, a big pink church, that Steve had visited before we came down - and we all loved it. It was big and pink - and welcoming and warm. I met other homeschooling moms. My kids met other homeschooled kids and athletic kids and kids who rode horses. There were white pastors and black pastors for the congregation of nearly 2,000 English speaking people. And there was a Brazilian pastor who preached in Spanish to a congregation of 300+ Spanish speakers every Sunday morning. I sat in the back row of the huge sanctuary that Sunday and wept - we had found a church that we all loved from the first time we attended.

The children, my mother and I returned to Connecticut where I packed boxes, gave things away, got together with friends for final dinners and gatherings, and we left our house in Norwalk, Connecticut, on the morning of Friday, November 1st for our drive to our new house. We arrived in Charlotte the next night, after a stop in Hickory, North Carolina, where we ordered new furniture and rugs for our new home. On Sunday morning, we got up, went back to the big pink church and started membership classes. That same week, that Brazilian pastor asked me to translate from Spanish to English during the Wednesday night Bible study. Nervously, I obliged. Less than a month later, I was asked to translate for him for three weeks during the Sunday morning service. Once again, I nervously obliged. At the end of those three weeks, I told him that if he ever needed help again, he should feel free to ask. He said, "What about doing it every week?"

Thus began seven and a half years of being the pastor's regular translator. I even went with him to other churches a couple of times to translate. I translated at funerals. I wrote letters and went to meetings with lawyers and translated documents for my dearly beloved Latino brothers and sisters from the end of 2002 until the middle of 2010. I loved it. I loved them, the men and women of so many central and south american nations, brave, strong, beautiful, loving, kind, generous, fearful, messy, needy, desperate people. They were just like me. I was just like them. Together we laughed and cried and drank coffee and ate delicious food and told our stories and read the Bible and prayed and grew to know and love one another. I learned more Spanish in those seven and a half years than I could ever have dreamed or hoped.

Early in 2010, my husband and I made the decision to leave that church. We didn't have another church in mind to attend, but we knew that we were done there. Our family had been deeply wounded by a lack of care and concern, especially on the part of the leadership of the church, at a time when we were in need of their care and support and presence. We were angry. I was tired. It was time to move on.

A year later, we began to attend another church. A quieter church. A smaller church. A loving church. A welcoming church. So welcoming, in fact, that even though I wasn't a member of the church, I was invited to teach there. Often. On Sundays mornings and Wednesdays evening. And when I taught there, they paid me. When I taught there, I taught men and women - which for many people is not a big deal. For that congregation it was not a big deal.

However for many of the people at the big pink church and all of the leadership there, that would have been a very big deal. Women are not allowed to teach men there, or any male over the age of 13 or so. Women teach women. Women teach children. Women don't preach or teach there, nor can they be elders or deacons. Women's wisdom is only for women.

Once when I was teaching a class on spiritual journaling there, a man came into the class. He was an avid journaler and shared many wonderful insights on writing with the rest of us. Unfortunately, he never came back. And soon thereafter, I was reminded that my classes were for women, not men. Not long after that, I was informed that my classes on spiritual journaling did not fit in with the vision and plan of the church and I could no longer teach them.

For years, I submitted to the tradition of women not teaching men. It always hurt my heart and wounded my soul because I knew so many wise, insightful, powerful, strong women who had so much to teach and share. I knew far too many unwise, power-hungry, angry, women-bashing men who had regular opportunities to speak their mean words from the pulpit and in front of groups of men and women.

Anyway, in this new church, women occupy every level of church leadership - pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, directors, music. I confess to being floored by the ease of it all. I confess that there were times when I would be teaching or listening to a woman preach or watching women distribute communion when I would brace myself for someone to stand up and say, "This is unbiblical. These women should not be speaking or leading or teaching. They need to sit down and be quiet." But it never happened. In fact, the opposite happened. Men and women embraced their female leaders and teachers in love and with gratitude, thanking them, thanking me for sharing our gifts with the congregation. They still do.

Many years ago, when I first attended this church's Wednesday noon service, I went out to lunch with one of the associate ministers at the time, a woman, and asked her how she would respond to people who said that women should be silent in church, that women shouldn't teach or preach or have authority in the church. She said many powerful and beautiful and grace-filled and Bible-based things in response, but the one thing that stood out most for me was this - "I would rather stand before God and have to answer for being a minister and preaching in church when God told me to be silent, than to answer for being silent when God told me to speak and preach. And I believe that God has called me to preach. Lives are being changed. People are being drawn into the kingdom. That's what matters most. Jesus said that if we don't praise and honor him, the rocks would cry out. No rock is gonna cry out in my place." I have thought about her words many times since that day.

This past January, we made the decision as a family to join this new church, this women-embracing, love-spreading, imperfect, messy church. As a member, I no longer get paid to teach, but I do get to teach more often. I am overwhelmed on a regular basis by the gratitude and support and encouragement I receive from not only from the women, but also the men in the church. The men who thank me for teaching and who share their stories with me, eyes brimming with tears, far outnumber the women. I believe God is using them and using this new church to heal my wounded heart, the places that were bruised and battered by the constant silencing of women in most of the churches I have attended in my lifetime. I believe that God has brought us to this place, to this congregation, to this community so that we can serve them and they can heal us as a family and as individuals. I believe that because we went through the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, and the anger of the final years at the other church, we are now able to more fully appreciate the rich blessing of this new place of fellowship.

This morning was the last service for the Spanish speaking congregation at our former church. Someone decided that the church should be "united, one body, worshipping God in one language." Of course, if anybody needed to hear the English speaking service translated into Spanish, they would be provided with headphones in the balcony.

I am broken hearted for the hundreds of people who now have to find new places to worship. I am broken hearted for the people who may decide to not go to church anymore at all because of the pain inflicted on them today. I am sad because I will likely never see some of those people again. I pray that they will all find places of peace, of love, of comfort, of community, of grace, and of genuine caring. We certainly have.

This morning was also an important day at our new church. A new slate of elders and deacons was voted on by the congregation to begin a three year term of serving the body of Christ as leaders. As dreamers. Implementers. Planners. Guides. Teachers. Caregivers. Encouragers. Pray-ers. Overseers. Most of all, as servants. Together. Before God. Alongside one another.

I was voted in as an Elder.

I wept.

One door categorically and completely shut.
Another one broadly and warmly opened.
At exactly the same hour.

Today has been a memorable Sunday indeed.
Thanks be to God.

No comments: