Leslie and I were in church yesterday morning for the first time in 3 weeks. The last two Sundays we played hooky. The first week we celebrated a birthday. Last week, Leslie’s mom kept the kids for the whole weekend and, well, we savored every moment of our much-needed time off by doing very little.
But, because our church is such an amazing place we simply cannot stand to stay away for long. We love it. Every part. We love our pastor and his wife. We love the other pastors, staff, and their families. We love our Life Group. We love the people—the ones we know well and the ones we don’t. We love the music. We love the teaching. We love Grace Church. It’s home. It’s family.
Yesterday we were thrilled to be back. We hadn’t been inside 5 minutes when I was overwhelmed at the first dozen people who caught my eye. Because I know their personal stories I know they’ve had many reasons to withdraw and hide. Things like adultery, complete loss of income and every material luxury, the tragic drowning of a toddler grandchild, drug abuse, and then some, have impacted those dozen people respectively.
Then I looked beyond that group of folks to another section where there was a gay couple, a woman recently divorced sitting with her 3 kids, a former pastor and his wife who have recently lost their church, livelihood, and many friends due to an affair, a woman who is in remission with cancer, and a couple who, though conflicted, is doing a great job of loving and embracing their daughter who is dating a transgendered woman.
All of these stories are full of complex details. Each one carries with it rejection, heartache, and isolation. I have known many people impacted by the things I just mentioned who wouldn’t share such details with their friends and family let alone fellow church members. But, hiding is not how we do life at Grace Church. The mosaic of reality minus the shame and stigma it often carries is what makes our community so refreshing and beautiful. Completely knowing and being known completely is compelling. It’s more than compelling; it nearly forces me to make it to any and every gathering where two or more from Grace Church are present.
For decades my pastor, Clark Whitten, has said, “What would it be like if we all came to church wearing a sign listing our top 10 sins/struggles around our neck? Who could judge”? Well, at Grace Church we don’t need such placards. We don’t have to. There is no shame attached to our stories, nothing unpardonable, and nothing too big, nothing too shocking or sickening that would cause any of us to shriek back in horror. We share with one another what people in other places are often too afraid to divulge. We might not have been “there” exactly, but we have all been somewhere and lived to tell about it. We have a culture of honesty and openness permeating all we do and the tapestry being woven, though imperfect and messy, is stunning.
That’s #Grace. It’s how #Church ought to be. All are welcome. Come as you are.
Join us: www.graceorlando.com/livestream or in person if you are anywhere near Orlando, Florida.