Faithfully Tolerated

Andrew Faiz

I was disappointed in the new TV series GCB; it’s a bit too soapish and corny for my taste. I was really looking forward to it, though, despite its deliberately vulgar full name, because the advance promotion said it was set in church world. Aside from a few British comedies, and arguably Little Mosque on the Prairie, church has not been a go – to environment for a TV series. (For that matter, with a few notable exceptions, not in movies or the theatre either.)

That’s too bad because the world of church is rife with high drama filled with life – altering experiences, much like law, cops and killers, and hospitals. All the stuff of the human opera is there: pettiness, backbiting, power mongering, nostalgia, overrun egos, the pursuit of wealth and fame and much more. Church community—as it is in the Dallas of GCB—can be used as a status – symbol sledgehammer and is often a source of great trauma.

For example: I met a most remarkable lady recently for lunch. She’s a member of the Presbyterian Church, sings in the choir, and is involved in committees. And, that’s the remarkable part of her story, for you see, over two decades she has often been discouraged from showing up in church by church itself.

Her eldest child was born with a medical condition, which, certainly in the early years, was a challenge to maintaining regular church attendance. After missing many Sundays to look after her child, she managed to make it to Easter worship, only to be told afterwards by her minister that she should be ashamed of herself for only coming on the important days.

She left that church and joined another. But with a disruptive child in tow she never felt welcomed. She moved again to another church and then another. At one church she spoke of the need for the congregation to have active children’s programming. The minister there scolded her for embarrassing the session in an open meeting. She left that church as well.

Each time she was hurt like this, she told me, she cried bitter tears.

She has finally found a church home, which is great, where her children are accepted; on some Sundays, faithfully tolerated, but certainly not reviled. It took her two decades.

Nothing of her story should come as a surprise to those of us who have been lifelong churchgoers. We know of the bullies and the sourpusses who can dominate a church community. We know of human frailty and that church is not always a safe environment. But, we also know the stories of redemption, forgiveness, support and regeneration. That too is part of the drama that is church.

Though she had every reason to walk away from the church world, she never did. She kept on going back, seeking that one community which would embrace her and her children. That’s a miracle story.

Studies have shown that people go to church primarily for a sense of community. Then, for a sense of belonging. Spiritual quest shows up later on the list; specific Christian beliefs even later. But, I’ve always felt those studies were off. Not being a statistician or an academic of any definition, I have nothing to base this feeling on. Nothing at all. Other than my experience of going to church.

I understand that people go to church for a variety of reasons which have nothing seemingly to do with God: to learn English, to travel the status ladder, to meet future life partners, to get a free meal, to panhandle, to make business connections. But, despite all this intellectual knowledge, despite all these studies, I ‘feel’ people go to church to be with God. And that if they are allowed to hang out in church long enough, they develop a personal relationship with Jesus. I feel that.

I will accept any rebuttal that says I am forcing my argument. But I am convinced the lady I met recently for lunch didn’t give up on church, despite all the turn – offs, because God never gave up on her. I know, a little simplistic; but sometimes a miracle really is a miracle.


About Andrew Faiz

Andrew Faiz is the Presbyterian Record's senior editor.