It was a fascinating conversation, at least the little of it that I heard while waiting under the heat lamp. I wonder what this woman would have thought, though, if I had told her that I was waiting for a train to take me to church to watch a colleague get ordained to the priesthood. I'm sure it would have been an instructive chat, and I would have welcomed an opportunity to talk about this church experience that she so indicted with the word fake. It's an indictment that I take seriously and to which I am very sympathetic. I have visited several congregations, for example, that have described themselves as friendly and hospitable, and yet nobody from these churches said one word to me or even gave me a nod of recognition while I was there. I was invisible. It is too bad that this young woman and many others view the church as fake, hypocritical, judgmental, elitist, and a host of other attributes that conflict with the understanding of koinonia, Christian community experienced as communion or participation.
|Photo courtesy of Sue Cromer.|
I have always said that theology begins at the front door, which is why I am usually to be found before mass on Sunday on the front steps greeting people as they enter. But I am aware that this is profoundly inadequate. No one is ever going to revise his or her experience of the Church as fake or hypocritical if we never bring this alternative vision of welcome, joy, celebration, and sincere compassion to the El platforms and other public places, where we encounter people who wouldn't dream of darkening the doorways of our churches. That is why I am so grateful to those Christians who provide a visible witness of their faith as a force of justice, mercy, and peace in places where others would not expect to see it, such as in administering ashes to commuters on the El tracks and downtown plazas on Ash Wednesday. Surely we can engage in more moments like this. I am not suggesting, of course, that every congregation start popping bottles of champagne, but rather to embody, in their own authentic ways, the spirit of new life that can come with belonging in the Church.