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Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Happened to the American Church?

Mark travels a lot for work.  He works for the railroad.  He conducts trains.  He always says it sounds more interesting than it really is.  In his pursuit to provide for our family, it leaves me alone on many Sunday mornings singly parenting our energetic children.  The way I see it...I have two choices.  I can stay home, or I can round up my bunch and go to church.  Some Sundays, the prospect of herding them into a place of worship seems daunting to me and we stay home.  Other Sundays, I feel brave and ready to embrace whatever kayos the four of them can dish up.  Today was one of "those brave" Sundays.  Even though I was at church on time this morning, and prepared with bottles, snacks, polly pockets, and colors, NOTHING could have prepared me for my experience at our neighborhood church.    
Before I describe to you my experience at church this is a little background.  I was raised in church from the front row.  In fact...I was even born on a Sunday in a little town called Woodland in California.  My dad and mom were pastors at a small little Foursquare church.  What few memories I have are good memories. In fact, my parents were pastors for over 25 years.  When I thought of raising children in church, it was always a given that we would be going to my parent's church.  They would dedicate their grandbabies, my dad would baptize his has a way of changing your plans.  Cancer came and took my dad almost 13 years ago, and took my dreams and plans as well.  Their church is gone.  The entry front empty. 
Mark and I pressed on and became involved in another church.  He served on the church board for over 6 years and youth pastored for five years as a volunteer.  I served as a children's worker, and worship leader.  Since our youngest was born, we have taken a break from ministry to focus on our family.  So on those Sundays, the ones I find myself parenting solo and I feel brave enough to venture to church with four kids in tow, I often attend the church one block from our home. I felt exceptionally brave.  I arrived a few minutes early and looked for a good seat.  Most of the time my kids can't see.  So we sat down in the front row way off to the left hand side (on the side of the stage).  The kids had a great view of the singers and instruments.  I got a sleepy baby out of his car seat.  My kids stood and sang and the baby was mesmerized by the giant screens.  About half way through the worship service, I was told that I couldn't sit in the front row with the baby because they are recording the service (with the 4 video cameras that they have).  I thought this woman was joking.  Nope. Serious.  My kids were quiet and well behaved, and the baby hadn't even made a peep. But I didn't argue, instead, I packed up my kids (car seat, diaper bag, purse, kids) and walked to the back section.  There wasn't enough seats to be found for my large brood.  So I decided to take the girls to their class.  They enjoy the music, so I let them stay in the main service for the songs.  I walked down the long staircase to their classroom to be greeted by a large sign posted across the door that read, "No children are excepted into class after 20 minutes of the start of service.  They need to remain with you."  I checked the clock on my phone.  It was 22 minutes after the start of service.  SERIOUSLY!!!  I had no idea!  So I walked back up the stairs and stood stupidly in the hallway.  I had no idea what to do.  I was ready to go home but I really wanted Luke to go to youth group.  He adores the youth group. 
A woman (I had never met before), saw me in the hall and asked if I was ok.  And the tears just came.  And.I.couldn't.stop.  I was doing the ugly cry in the middle of a tiny hallway at church.  Let's recall...I sat in the wrong spot, my girls couldn't attend class and I had no where to sit or go.  I felt like a fool in front of this woman.  After speaking to an usher, their solution for me was to go into the Mother's lounge where I could watch the service through the live feed on the TV.  Great.  Except for the part where my 13 year old son couldn't come in.  I arranged for him to sit in the main service next to the woman who asked if she could help me until it was time for his class to start.  I took the girls and baby into the mother's lounge, sat down in a rocking chair and cried and cried.  I even had my older daughter get me more tissue (twice). 

I started asking myself, "what happened to the American church?"  How can a church make me (ME) feel so unwelcome!  I've been going to church my whole life!  I get this church thing.   Or I thought I did.  It's not like I was a newbie.  I couldn't help but think of my dad.  He loved kids!  He didn't even mind crying babies in service.  He could preach right through.  Years ago I was a children's church pastor and I never turned away children!!!  I would go find them and invite the kids in the sanctuary to class.  The door was always open.  How did we get to this place?  When did church become more about recording the service, capturing the right shot, and less about people?  When did church become a performance or concert?  As I recall Jesus WELCOMED the little children to him.  He didn't turn them away because they were 22 minutes late to the start of class, or ask them to take the baby out of the front row! 

I drove away from church today feeling like I had done something wrong.  I told my oldest son that church shouldn't make you feel that way.  You shouldn't leave church feeling like you broke every rule, ruined the camera recording and failed to get your children to class on time.  I should have left church feeling encouraged, loved, challenged, inspired, uplifted, cared for, built up.  But all church did to me today was communicate I was unwelcome, my children unwelcome and I had broken the rule by not sitting in the appropriate section.  I was broken, hurt, upset, lonely, unvalued and shamed when I walked out of that church today.  It's pretty safe to say, I won't be going back.  What is happening to churches these days?  In the past, I've often wondered where all the people are that are our age.   After my experience this morning, it is less of mystery. 

"But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. ~ Matthew 19:14-15



Anonymous said...

You should write them and tell them what you said here. I doubt they even realize that they are driving away parishioners. Nobody should feel that way in a "safe".

Carissa Dahl said...

Thank you! I actually did email the church this morning and shared about my experience. I hope it makes them think. I don't really expect to hear anything, but I tried.

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