Sometimes, Church is found in surprising places
For some years I acted as client advocate for a small drug addiction recovery facility in our village. My encounters there I will never forget.
Each morning the clients met in a small group for a check up amongst themselves of how things were. As the followed a 12 step programme the opening lines were always the same. ‘Hi, my name is x and I am a drug addict’ Then followed what they called their check in – finding out how each one was. In and through it there was huge mutual acceptance – gentle calling to account (they knew instinctively when someone was masking what was going on) – and forgiveness.
Part of the recovery required the clients to write up their life story – including an honest accounting and responsibility for their actions, those they had hurt and the rest. This they would retell to their fellows. Again the group Accepted the individual – Called them to account and to full honesty – and found ways on a daily basis to express their love and care for their recovering friends – for friendship grew naturally when lives were laid open. Like the thief on the cross, they each knew ‘We too are under the same condemnation’.
They were people who knew they were ill, knew they needed healing and knew that the path laid out if faithfully followed would bring them back to Life.
They bore one anothers’ burdens and thus fulfilled the Law of Christ – for burden bearing is Love in action.
And utterly remarkably 3 out of 4 folk who walked the journey were transformed.
I still think that it is as close as I have ever come to seeing the Kingdom of God in startling clarity – and also that as when The King walked this earth, the Light of his presence, the offer of Life was too much for
What was sad was of course those who could not stay the course and almost all of them fell into one of two groups. There were those who had spent so long in prison that they were terrified of Freedom. The other group were those who had come from more ‘Respectable’ backgrounds. I am very aware that there are many ‘respectable people’ whose addiction to drugs is hidden – they are perhaps wealthy and don’t have to steal to satisfy the craving – or their addiction is covered up by those close to them. Such people had too much ‘face’ to lose. Their lives perhaps more than the lives of most of the clients had been hidden behind the mask of respectability. ‘Good’ homes, well thought of in their professional life . . . fill in the blanks . . . all those things which go to make up socially respectable people. Indeed they’d often paid for the programme themselves . . .
It was too much for them to admit that they too were ‘under the same condemnation’ as those who came from poor and broken backgrounds and homes. The discipline of honest accounting before others of their lives and failings was too much – they could not face the truth about themselves. They could not bear to see the tax collectors and Prostitutes entering life ahead of them. Perhaps, like the Rich man in Jesus’ parable, they chose not to see Lazarus at their gate and to see themselves in him.
The chaos of the lives of most clients was so on the surface, masks were at times hilariously obvious to all – the Respectable amongst them had had more opportunity to work at our deceptions 🙂 ‘It is harder for a Rich man . . .’
We Are All under the same condemnation – we all hang next to the one ‘who has done nothing amiss’ – like us in every way yet without sin. That is our predicament – and the curse perhaps of our churches is the masks that we are taught to wear There of all places. How little often our lives in the gaze of the church bear little or no likeness to the reality of our lives at home and in the workplace. THE place, the body of Christ In which we are healed, is the place very often of our greatest deception. Fine music, pastors with a wall full of academic citations, beautifully robed choirs, inconsequential conversations over coffee, and of course we ourselves dressed in Sunday Best . . .
Our churches are to be places of formation, and formation in Christ is perhaps entirely a process of healing. Church is a hospital – there our distorted selves, often hidden from the gaze of those around us in the world find a place where it comes into Light and is healed. The body of Christ – the church. If we come to know the love of God, the significance of his healing grace, perhaps our churches might come better to resemble that drug addiction clinic, perhaps we too might see remarkable healings and people restored to life?
I’m reminded of the opening of those meetings
Perhaps after saying – the Lord be with you, and also with you – we might say ‘My name is Eric, and I am a sinner’ . . . just a thought
(NB Of course I’m NOT saying that belonging to Church means you have to change your name to Eric . . . 😉 )