Sunday, March 11, 2012

Do you have your pastor's cell phone number?

Today on the SOJO website there is a great post by Christian Piatt about why young adults quit church. He lists the following seven reasons:
  1. We've been hurt
  2. Adult life/college and church don't seem to mix
  3. There's no natural bridge to church
  4. We're distracted
  5. We're skeptical
  6. We're exhausted
  7. I don't get it
It's a great article and I highly recommend reading it fully. One of my favorite thoughts on this was the one about holding early morning services and expecting college students to come... it's just not going to happen. Even if we love the Lord, we want our sleep because (point 6) we're exhausted!

But what I wanted to focus on today was WHY I GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY MORNING. Because trust me, I have been hurt, my life doesn't really mix with church, at times I am skeptical, and I am definitely exhausted. But I still go.

When I first started grad school at Cal I was excited to find a new church in the Bay Area. I checked out all the ones by my house and had very high hopes about fitting in somewhere. I visited a bunch of church's multiple times, even declaring one as my home church. But sometimes, Sunday would come and I would be really tired and overloaded with homework and so I would skip. No one would really seem to care. I would go back to the church and try my hardest to make connections but I just wasn't feeling the love. I would send emails to people who told me, "send me an email" and I would call people who would say, "give me a call"... many times, no replies.

I found myself becoming disinterested in those church's and traveling a little ways to the outskirts of town to go to my friends church that he pastors. This was a little too easy... of course I could call him and email him. I generally liked that church and went there through my fall semester up until Christmas break. Well breaks can be interesting for the life of a church-going college student because a whole month away makes it seem like a million years. When I returned in January, I felt pretty disconnected.

In January while at internship, I was talking to my supervisor about how I would like to visit a predominantly African American church in Oakland while I am in the Bay Area. I will be honest, I feel guilty admitting that I wanted to be almost a "tourist" visiting for the experience (see this article for interesting words on that). My supervisor hooked me up with the charge nurse who has been going to a well known church in West Oakland for 20+ years and I gave her my phone number in which she replied, "I will have my pastor call you". I said okay but secretly laughed to myself - when would a pastor EVER call someone who doesn't even GO to their church?! I assumed she had meant the assistant or youth pastor and went on with my day thinking I would never been held accountable to going.

As I left the hospital that night I had a message on my phone... it was THE pastor! This is what he said:

"Hello, Carrie, Sister Georgia gave me your number and
told me you were interested in visiting the church.
I would love to speak with you before and give you a tour.
Give me a call and you could come in on a Saturday..
Call me on my cell phone before six... and call me at my house
after six... God Bless you.

I WAS SHOCKED.

I had to listen to the message another time to really take in what this man had just said to me. Call me at your house? Seriously? As I did more research online that night I realized this wasn't just any man, this was pastor Gillette O. James, who had been pastoring the Beth Eden Baptist Church for 41 years. FORTY ONE.

I returned his call and we set up an appointment for the following Saturday. We met and I told him about myself. He proceeded to tell me about the history of the church and other life stories. He also told me that since I have such an extensive background in theology, that if I became a member I wouldn't go to the New Member Sunday School class, but that he and I would sit together and just discuss theology. Are you getting this?? 60 or 70-ish African American man, willing to take time to TEACH ME, 20-year-old white girl. This just seemed too good to be true.

As I left that day I was still convinced I wasn't going to become a member. I wanted a church that felt like home and I was pretty convinced that I wasn't going to find it there. Not because I didn't physically fit in... but because I just thought that it would be hard to be ministered too. It might sound selfish, but I am just being real here... being a college student is hard.. and we need support from our church families. Mostly, I want to feel that people care for me and care that I am there. I also want to feel like if I am in need of prayer during a life crisis, the pastors/deacons/deaconess' will know who I am and be willing to pray for me. And finally, like the SOJO article mentioned, free food is always welcomed!

As I went to church that first Sunday I was very nervous. But throughout the 3 hour long service I felt very welcomed. Not only was I introduced in front of the whole congregation, but I also was called up to the stage to "tell a little about myself". WHAT?! I had not planned for this! Remember, I am one of three white people here. As Pastor James introduced me, I was suspicious that he had tape recorded our meeting because he described me better than I can describe myself. How did he remember all of those things? For starters, he might have been one of the first pastors I have met without ADHD.

The next week I didn't go back because I wasn't feeling well. Of course the pastor called me to check in... and the employees I work with who attend Beth Eden were checking in on me as well. I felt cared for. Ever since that missed Sunday, I have been faithfully waking up on Sunday morning (service starts at 10:45, thank God!) and heading to West Oakland for church. And every Sunday I feel more and more welcomed.

I also keep hearing more and more stories from people about how Pastor James has been there for them. Everyone has his cell phone number, and it seems that he will come be with you at a moments notice. This is very foreign to me, and I am still having trouble grasping it. I am thinking back to my ministry while serving in youth ministries throughout the years, wondering if I was accessible enough. Did I value my time as MY time, or was my time to minister to people?

I have always had this feeling that being a full time minister would be WAY TOO DIFFICULT. You would be on call all the time. In the church's I grew up in (and I think this is a pattern in most White Evangelical churches), the focus was more on boundaries than it was on accessibility. Pastors needed their boundaries to be with their families and have their days off. While I don't directly disagree with this, I am starting to realize that maybe having strict boundaries isn't what God is calling ministers to do.

I am enjoying stretching my boundaries only to be blessed by a pastor that is so accessible, genuine, and welcoming. I am happy to call Beth Eden my church home, and I am happy to roll out of bed every Sunday morning.

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