For anyone who has ever felt unwelcome at a church or unloved by a follower of Jesus:
By: Hannah Dearth
I was halfway through my pregnancy. I was 23, and unmarried. My boyfriend and I had differing histories in faith, but we knew it was important to us, so we decided getting connected into a church before our baby was born would be a priority for us. We visited a handful of churches, and our experiences were less than desirable. Even churches recommended by people we love very much.
At this point in my pregnancy, it was clear that I was having a baby due to my basketball sized belly. It was also clear that I didn’t have a ring on my finger. People would call my boyfriend my husband, and the sharp look when I corrected them with the word “boyfriend” could have pierced my skin.
The experience that hurt the most, was one where I went with a friend who was also not married at the time. She had a young daughter with her. The sermon topic was...you guessed it...about sex before marriage. Regardless of your stance here, my bigger message is how you communicate it. We agreed with the Bible, and we would have liked to have the timeline for a baby look a little differently, sure, but we also obviously very much wanted to grow in our faith. Except the message wasn’t one of repentance. Or grace. Or mercy.
No, the pastor was fired up. He had very hurtful, specific, and personal things to say about women who had sex before marriage. Congregation members nodded along with a harsh voices saying, “Amen!”. He also had a lot to say about his views on a terrible predestined life of children birthed out of wedlock. It. Was. Horrific.
My friend and I literally began to receive glances that I initially thought were in my head. Finally, both of us near tears as the sermon continued, tried to quietly usher ourselves out of the pew. No one would stand to let us pass. People literally whispered and made eye contact as we walked out that morning. It was so very shameful and uncomfortable.
I cried for what felt like an hour in the car that day. If it wasn’t for mentors in my life who loved Jesus and showed us so much grace and support, I probably wouldn’t have went back to church and altogether just stopped trying. It would have been easy to put all churches, and all Christians, into a box.
Our next church experience was after our son was born, at a moms group that then led to us attending service and other events regularly through the church. The experience was Night. And. Day.
Everyone showed so much love and kindness, that I didn’t feel “justified” in my visible and apparent sins as it seemed some may have assumed I would in my other experiences had they welcomed me in. No, I felt redemption. I wanted to return. I wanted to fellowship and grow and I wanted to experience the life God offers. We became very involved over the next few years, married, baptized, and dedicated our children.
I share this, because now I may look on the outside “put together”, like I thought of others when I entered the church for the first time. But, you guys, I’m still broken. We all are.
That’s why we all need Jesus. And if we shut others out who sin differently than we do, how will they ever experience that love that He so graciously pours out to us?
So, two things. One, I am so very sorry if a church or a Christian, myself included, ever made you second guess God or faith. I’m not that powerful, and neither are they.
Two, God wants you and loves you...always! You know what, heck, I love you! And I promise with all of my heart, that there are both churches and Christians out there who will help you to feel that deep down in your bones. And it is so beautiful, and so glorious, and so worth it. A church is not meant to be a private club that shuts people out, but rather welcomes everyone in, AND goes out to them.
My big prayer for you as the physical churches remain closed, is that these two worlds truly collide for you, and you feel the true meaning of the church and the love of Jesus through those that love Him, and it can be redefined back into its original and intended meaning.
Please, don’t give up. I promise God will never give up on you!