About ten years ago, I attended the Methodist church in the city where my husband and I were living. It was Christmas time and my parents were visiting from Arizona. The four of us decided to attend the midnight service at the church.
We arrived and the huge altar looked stunning covered in the bright red leaves of poinsettias. The stained glass windows didn’t have the sun shining through, but even the darkness of the night outside couldn’t mask their beauty. The choir, all in white robes, looked angelic, their voices filling the sanctuary.
It was Christmas and I looked forward with anticipation to hear the hope of the sermon and to sing all the carols that I loved as a child.
Christmas always brings back memories of my brothers and I when were kids. During church, my oldest brother, Joel, would tell us, his younger siblings, that the song Noel was really, Joel. So, all four of us kids would sing JOEL at the top of our lungs. After church we were allowed to open one present and then we had to go to bed so Santa could visit. We were poor when I was little, but I never knew that, there were always presents stretching way into the living room. It was magical, it was wonderful, and it was Christmas.
It was with the heart of a child that I went to church that night. We sat in the balcony, because there was no room left below. Before the pastor started the sermon he talked to the congregation about the life of the church community, available Bible studies and upcoming rummage sales. Then he told a joke. It started out with the song bipolar people sing at Christmas (I can’t remember the punch line) and it ended with “Schizophrenics sing, Do you hear what I hear?”
I sat in that balcony in pain and shock. At the time, I still had the diagnosis of Bipolar, and I thought to myself, “If people like me are not allowed in church, where are we allowed? If church isn’t safe, where can we find safety?”
One time a homeless man had come into the church and sat down in a pew. He started talking a little during the sermon, and he was obviously making the congregants nervous. Men from the church immediately went into action and removed him. I thought to myself, “The weak, the sick, the needy, the poor are not welcome here. Jesus doesn’t live here anymore.”
While we were singing Silent Night outside of the church in the court yard, I eyed the pastor. After the song was over, I approached him. “I am bipolar.” I said. If people like me are not welcome in the church, where are we welcome?” He was a very powerful man in the community, and very politically motivated. He said something and then turned away from me.
Not everyone who leads a church, or claims to be Christian, follows Christ. I can assure you that many of them know the teachings of Jesus but deny his words. It was a revelation to me. I’m not always welcome in church, but I know one thing for sure, If I’m not welcome and the homeless are not welcome, neither is the revolutionary that we follow.