Recently, it was our church’s turn to lead the weekly worship service at a local nursing home. It was my first time doing this since starting at the church but some of the choir had been there before. I arrived early as always and chatted with some of the staff and residents as they gathered in the multi-purpose room that was our sanctuary for the afternoon. One of the staff people had heard I had been doing some fill in preaching at another congregation, which prompted her to ask how things were going at that church.
That quickly lead to her talking about the recent struggles the congregation had, which lead several of the residents to talk about struggles that other congregations were having. In the midst of the back and forth, a young woman staffer brought another resident to the room and as she was positioning the wheelchair, was obviously listening to the conversation. Picking me out as the obvious pastor, she asked, “Do churches really have fights?”
I immediately thought that she was being ironic, since everyone knows that churches fight. But it quickly became clear that she didn’t know this. She didn’t have a church background and said that she just assumed that churches were supposed to be places where stuff like that didn’t happen. It was difficult to follow up with her, interact with the others having the conversation and greet new patients coming to the service so all I was able to do in response to her question was assure her that although churches do fight, they are not supposed to. With that, she headed off to other duties and I began the worship service.
Given the nature of life in small communities, I may or may not get another chance to talk with this woman–there is so much I would have liked to say about the church and its potential as well as its propensity to fight. I do have a concern that she might write the church and the faith off because of this chance conversation–I hope and pray not but the reality is this may be what happens.
Churches do fight–and in rural areas like ours, everyone soon finds out about this reality. Although only a minority of people in Canada actually attend worship or are actively involved in churches, we are all related in some way, shape or form and being human, we love to trade stories–I won’t call it gossip because that might be a good topic for another blog. The woman at the nursing home who didn’t know that churches fight obviously hadn’t been a part of any such relationship net but I am sure that she will eventually know people who have been involved in and hurt by a church fight.
What bothers me is that in spite of this woman’s lack of knowledge, many others do know about church fights–and often, this is the only real knowledge of the church that they have. This becomes the public witness of the church and the faith–we fight. I know lots of churches in our area that are doing all kinds of good ministry, have good worship services, provide their communities with support and service and so on but mostly, if I hear about a church, it is because they had a fight, are having a fight or look like they are getting ready to have a fight.
I can’t stop churches from fighting. I can’t stop the stories of church fights from spreading. I can’t give everyone a long explanation of why churches fight and why they shouldn’t. What I can do is work with the churches I am called to and help them learn better ways to deal with their disagreements. I can work with myself and learn how to better deal with myself in the context of the disagreements that I am involved in. I can write and teach and pray things that will encourage the wider church to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
To me, the church is the place where people of faith are supposed to be–the gathering of believers called together to help each other grow and serve. A church fighting itself is a complete denial of all that we are supposed to be and are called to be. While I wish church fights were so rare that the staff person’s reaction was normal, that isn’t the case–but I can hope and dream and pray.
May the peace of God be with you.