In 1975, the most astounding thing happened. Millie and Ted moved into our community. Our nice, peaceful community where everything was as it should be. People were friendly, neighbors had neighborhood block parties, took in the mail for one another and watered each others lawns during vacations, dropped in for coffee just because, and followed the “it takes a village” model of child rearing long before Hillary told us we were supposed to be a village.
We knew who we were and where we were supposed to be. And on Sunday mornings, we most especially knew. The Burns family was at the Catholic Church. The Johnsons were at the Presbyterian Church. The Lovells were at the Lutheran Church. And our family was at the Disciples Church.
There were a lot of us at our Disciples Church on Sunday mornings. At least, it seemed to be a lot of people for a mainline Protestant church in a Montana town in the mid-70s. We would never have the numbers of our sister churches in the midwest or the Catholics across town, but we were happy. Life was good.
Until Millie and Ted moved to town. And then, even more unbelievable, Millie and Ted selected OUR church as THE church for their family.
The buzz was incessant. A field of beehives couldn’t have outbuzzed us.
“This just isn’t right.”
“Will they fit in here?”
“Did you hear what So-and-So said?”
“Maybe they’d be happier in a different church.”
“What about their children?”
My parents were livid. This is God’s house. We are Disciples. All are welcome.
In case you’re not familiar with us, let me explain. I am a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. We have no creeds. We do not interview people before they are allowed to join our churches, other than asking them something such as, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and your personal Lord and Savior?” Some congregations have even done away with this traditional query. We have “open communion,” which means that all people are welcome to share in communion, regardless of their church background or method of baptism. We baptize by immersion and wait to baptize you until you are old enough to make that choice for yourself, but you can join our churches, even if you were sprinkled as an infant. We have communion every Sunday and sometimes at church events at other times during the week. We like communion. We like it a LOT. We do it to remember Jesus. We don’t all believe that he died for our sins, but some of us do. So, when we partake of the holy elements of communion, we say all different things. Some of us say the “words of institution,” remembering Jesus’ body and blood. Some of us say other things, such as, “Receive the gifts of God’s love” or “Jesus’ body, living in you/Jesus’ blood renewing your spirit.” We are an eclectic group of people, some conservative, some liberal, and everything in between. And still, we come to the table together. Because we’re Disciples.
So, when Millie and Ted joined the church, in 1975, and people responded poorly, my parents and several other people were NOT pleased.
And the reason for all this?
Millie was white. Ted was black. Their children were mixed race.
Now, in this day and age, that may all seem a little odd. I mean, really, who gives that a second thought, anymore? Who even cares or would give them a second glance? Well, at least in most parts of the United States and many parts of the world. (I do realize that racism is alive and well in some parts of our country and elsewhere around this planet.)
By and large, this is not an issue for most of us. But in 1975, in our nice, little church, in our nice, little town, it was an issue. Our town was pretty white. Sure, we had “Indians.” But the “Indians” were on the rez. You know, where they were “supposed to be.” They just came into town to shop at K-Mart on Saturdays.
But, of course, we weren’t segregated. We weren’t prejudiced. We lived in the north. We were far beyond any of that nonsense.
And then Millie and Ted moved to town. And Millie and Ted joined the church. And SMACK!
Our prejudices jumped right out and screamed for all the world to hear. “Here we are. We’re alive and thriving. We’re in control of society. We’re in control of churches. We’re in control of hearts.”
I don’t know whatever happened to Millie and Ted. After my dad died, we all moved away from the area and lost touch with the people there. I don’t think that Millie and Ted and their kids stayed in the area very long, but while they were there, they found the church to be a good church home for them. Feelings were resolved. Buzz died down. People learned that people are people and all God’s people are welcome at the table.
So many years have passed that I’d love to be able to say that no Disciples church would ever buzz like a field of beehives ever again, but I’d be lying. My denomination will soon be voting on just how welcoming we want to be. On whether or not all people are really welcome at the table.
We say that all people are welcome. I’m praying. I’m praying mightily that we will prove ourselves to be true to our word.