Hilary and I had just about given up on church when we moved to Springfield last summer. We’d been in a place that wasn’t safe for our questions, our concerns, or our doubts. It was really a culmination of all of the terrible experiences we had in several churches over the course of a few very formative years. We spent most of the summer avoiding talking about church; I took a job that worked me on Sunday mornings, and on Sunday nights, we would get together complain about our struggles, eat bread, and drink wine. It was, in some ways, sort of like church, but it lacked diversity and communal wisdom. When I started school in the fall, I met a woman named Dianne Juby. Dianne asked me what it was that I was interested in studying. When I responded with my typical answers about the emerging church, she said that I had to go check out a church called Brentwood Christian Church and that I needed to contact the pastor, Phil Snider. I emailed Phil and checked out the church’s website, which caused me a little hesitancy. I listened to a few of the poorly recorded songs, and I wasn’t all that impressed. But despite my reservations, Hilary and I decided to check it out that Sunday.
We pulled in and found a visitor’s parking spot right out front and made our way across the parking lot, up the few concrete stairs, and pulled open the surprisingly light, metal doors. It took my eyes a second to adjust from the bright, summer morning sunlight to the low-lighting inside. We stepped inside and looked down the long, narrow hallway that makes up most of the church’s building. We made our way to the open, wooden, double doors that lead into the sanctuary. As we walked in, a man introduced himself as Maurice, handed us bulletins, and asked us our names. The space is a blend of rich, dark wood and orange carpet. Thankfully, as one looks upwards to the oft-understood “heavens” where God is, one can leave behind the nasty, scratchy, well-worn orange carpets. Hilary and I sat on the east side, about halfway back. We were unsure as the first song started; it didn’t sound like anything we were familiar with. It was very tame, especially considering the places from which we had come, places that loved loud music and David Crowder. As the words came on the screen and the melodies and harmonies washed over us, I was intrigued. I wouldn’t say I was moved. The music was still so unfamiliar to me that I wouldn’t let it carry me away, but I noticed a certain commitment to ideas that I felt were at the heart of Christianity reflected in the lyrics in a way that I hadn’t really experienced much before. As the first song flowed into the second, I noticed a procession of people carrying what seemed to be worshipful elements to the chancel: a Bible, a loaf of bread, a pitcher and two cups, and a jug of water that was poured into a bowl in front of the altar table. As I had heard, I began to see the beauty of Christian tradition in those few, precious objects. As the second song ended, the woman who had been leading the singing said into the microphone:
If you are young or old, you are welcome
If you have brown skin, black skin, white skin, yellow skin or red skin, you are welcome
If you are married or single, you are welcome
If you are gay or straight, you are welcome
If you cannot hear or see, you are welcome
If you are sick or well, you are welcome
If you are a man or a woman, you are welcome
If you are happy or sad, you are welcome
If you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, you are welcome
If you believe in God some of the time or none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome…
You are welcome here.
When I heard those words, I heard hope. It was hope for a church that I thought had died long ago, hope for a community that seemed to have lost its power. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing a church talk about Jesus in ways that I didn’t find disturbing or self-indulgent.
It was as if I heard a voice say, “Why are you persecuting me?”
And I replied, “Who are you?”
And the voice said, “I am the Christ. I am the Church, and you have been unfairly criticizing me.”
Brentwood has been anything but perfect or even “good” since we got there, but its a joy to be a part of a church that is so passionately seeking transformation and justice, while making space for the Neighbor. If this is Christianity, then, for the first time in years, I want to be a Christian.