A blogger that I don’t know in real life, but I really like is Adam McClane. He writes a lot about church issues and his words almost always resonate with me.
My heart breaks for those hurt by the church. Specifically, for people called to full-time ministry, but gravely injured by the people they were called to serve…The church treated them like a couch. One day they are the centerpiece of the metaphorical living room and the next day they were moved to the curb and left for the garbage truck to pick them up.
I have been working in church ministry full-time for nearly eleven years and I have known a lot of wonderful friends who have worked at churches or volunteered as staff in churches that have treated them badly. I have listened to some of the most horrendous, unbelievable stories about harsh, disrespectful, uncaring words spoken; about pay cuts and hour cuts (without a decrease in amount of work expected); about promises broken and unfair expectations and demands. I have known church workers who have been discarded by the people who were supposed to be their family.
My heart hurts for people who serve the church but are not cared for by their churches. I imagine that it must be a very lonely place to be.
I’ve had my share of difficult interactions with my church family, and there have been times when I have felt like I was standing alone with no one on my side. I have been angry, I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been irritated and I’ve been ready to walk out the door and not come back.
I feel very blessed that those moments and times have always been temporary and have not had a big impact on my ministry here.
My time with my church family (for they are truly a family to me) has been one full of love, support and encouragement. I feel beyond blessed to be in my eleventh year of service here. It’s not always easy and it’s not always life-giving, but I know God has called me here and since I know this is true, I am so grateful that I’m serving the people I do.
The church I serve pays me a fair salary, gives me a generous allowance to continue my education, gives me vacation days every year and pays for my family’s health insurance. They remember my birthday and my family at Christmas. Members send me cards to tell me they appreciate me. They tell me they love me and appreciate the work I do. They support the youth group and the children’s ministry. They pray for me. They encourage me to take my days off and they encourage me to take extra days off when I need them. I have heard them say that my family comes first no matter what and they back that up with their expectations of me. They give me freedom to minister the way God calls me and they trust me to make decisions and clean up my messes. I’ve never been told that I can’t do something with the youth because it might break something, the building might get messed up or it will be too noisy.
On Sunday in his early service sermon, John asked the question: “Does anyone ever offer a blessing over you?” He asked in it such a way that the conclusion was that it’s not very common for people to bless us in real life. I had to think that yes, people do offer blessings over me on a fairly regular basis. Friends who share their caring words and hopes for me, family members who do the same, church members who stop and take the time to speak words over my life.
Willie Ann is a saint of our church who has lived a life that inspires me. I want to live a life like her. I want to treat people with the love and respect that she does. I want to be filled with joy like she is. If you know Willie Ann, you know exactly what I mean.
I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning for the 10:30 service and was met a few steps inside the door by Willie Ann. This is common. Even when Willie Ann is not the greeter, she stands at the back of the church and kisses and hugs and speaks to everyone she can get her hands on.
Willie Ann has quite a grip, by the way. As I entered the worship space, she gripped my left wrist firmly with her thin, aged hand. “Hello, you little angel!” she exclaimed. “Good morning!” I said and hugged her best I could without the use of my left arm. “You are God’s gift to us!” she exclaimed.
“Thank you, Willie Ann,” I replied, brushing off her words. “You’re so sweet to me.”
She gripped harder and demanded my eye contact. “You are God’s gift to us. The day you came here was one of our church’s very best days. You work hard and you are such a servant of the Lord. You are God’s gift to us.”
As tears filled my eyes, she kissed my cheek and released me and was off to offer her blessing to the person behind me. I hope that wherever you work, wherever you worship, and whatever you do, you have a Willie Ann who stands in your corner and reminds you that you’re a gift.
I especially hope that if you serve the church, you have lots of Willie Anns–although I’m sure you’re blessed if you have even one.
If you don’t work at a church, but you attend a church, I hope you take the time to bless your staff. I hope you take a chance to offer a kind word and reconsider your bitter or harsh ones. I hope you take a moment to write a note, offer lunch or just stop to listen and care. I hope you don’t hold them to a higher standard than you hold yourself and I hope you accept them as they are–faults and gifts together.
I’m grateful. I’m blessed.
(the picture is the stained glass window in the front of our sanctuary at Presbyterian Church in Henderson, KY.)