Have you ever felt like an outsider before? You know, like you are the odd person out, while everyone else seems to fit in? We all probably have at one time or another. It might have been when we started a new job, a new school, or when moving into a new neighborhood. Or maybe if we visited another country where we didn’t speak the language.
It makes you nervous for a bit, but after awhile you become one of the locals if you spend long enough there. You get familiar with the people, places, and shortcuts. You learn the social expectations at the new job and who to ask for help.
But, sometimes, we can be kept on the outside by others, who do not want us to join their close knit communities. It is nothing we have done, or a perceived thought of our own that we are the new kid on the block. We are just treated like an outsider.
I thought about this as I recently traveled to a wedding in a mid sized southern city. My son was traveling with me and the drive was an easy few hours away. We arrived early at the downtown church to discover the parking lot was being staged as a feeding site for the homeless. It was a very urban setting for a church, something my son and I are not used to in our small town. We both were a little nervous and asked ourselves whether or not our car would be safe in the parking lot while we attended the wedding.
We were early and the door to the chapel where the wedding was being held was locked still. We pushed the doorbell to be let in. It was a beautiful church; everywhere we looked we saw antiques and centuries old architecture. But, also everywhere we looked were the signs; don’t enter, not an entrance, go around, not an exit. To clarify, all the signs were placed in front of doorways and hallways. Doors were locked between buildings and door were locked preventing us from exiting the building. It felt as though all people entering were a burden, rather than welcomed. We felt like outsiders.
My son quickly made the observation, that the church locked the people outside for fear of them coming into the building. His wise words were; ” The church will feed you…..but we will feed you OUTSIDE, please don’t come in; stay outside.” I considered my own thoughts a few minutes earlier, when my fear of what the homeless people in the parking lot might do to our car and the stuff inside the car while we were inside in the church building. I felt embarrassed now.
I get it that security is an issue for churches. Churches have been the sites for destruction and heinous crimes. They would like to keep safe. And keep the people inside safe. But, I wondered if they would have let us in to attend the wedding, if we had been dressed as the homeless outside were.
Ironically, the next day, I was attending a different church, but in the same state, with a much different outlook on the homeless and food insecure. At the end of the service a homeless veteran came inside and was welcomed with a small bag of cookies.I was told when I inquired that He was a regular that often would wander in during the service. It was not a large church, but had been replanted in an old urban neighborhood. It was for all intent and purposes, downtown, like the one form the day before.
Two different churches and two very different ways to handle the people coming into the building. One made everyone who visited feel like an outsiders and like a burden, the other; welcomed and as an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus.
It is easy to say that we would be like that welcoming church too, given the chance. But, I have to admit, I am still working on this, or should I say, God is working on me about this. I still need to be reminded by God from time to time, that I used to be that outsider in the church. I was nervous to attend. I didn’t know what to expect. I never grew up attending church. I was nervous the first time I attended a service. I wanted to fit in.
Maybe you have never attended a church service before and are kind of intimidated to try. I get it. Many people stalk churches online first, before deciding to visit. And that’s okay. I do the same. Maybe you’re just not ready yet.
But, I pray that when you do go, you will find a church that is ready to feed you (spiritually speaking) from inside, and not make you feel like an outsider. Or maybe even offer food or assistance and help if that is what you need.
To those of you who are people of faith, remember, we are all just people, created in His image. We don’t need to be afraid to open our church doors and let the people who need the most help come inside. We are not better than others, just in different places in life. Maybe we have made better choices, maybe we have been blessed more financially, but we are all basically bankrupt without God. We all feel hunger, loneliness, pain and other hurts. We are called to help and love others. And share the hope that is found in God. If we consider ourselves better than others then, in the only way that is true is that we have hope. We found this hope in our relationship with Christ.
Some people do not want to come inside, but that is okay. They have their reasons, but we can still help. We can continue to answer their questions about our faith. We can offer encouragement. We can share a meal or help them out financially. We were once the outsiders too. We do not need to limit ourselves to the scope of our reach. Jesus taught in the synagogues and He taught outside the synagogues. He shared meals with the “outsiders” of His time. He calls us today, as He called Peter to feed His sheep. That might be inside the church, but more than likely it will be outside. So let our response simply be; “Yes. We will feed you.” -God Bless You- Nancy