Is it Me?: A Minister’s Look at Her Relationship With the Church

I’ve always had a rather warped relationship with church. My earliest memories of church, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, are of dunking my graham crackers in my orange juice in the nursery and my grandparents’ friend, Otto Krause, sneaking me lifesavers during worship. This sneaky behavior took place in the balcony of Central Christian Church in Walla Walla, WA where I also remember marching in place whenever we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I guess it just seemed like the thing to do to a preschooler. I remember climbing the bell tower, where the children were NOT supposed to go, and looking for bats. I’m guessing it was an adult who put that idea in my head. I remember that the basement was haunted. And I remember loving every minute of it, as well as other childhood memories that swirl around in my head, blending with those. Memories of that church, as well as others, as we moved from community to community and time marched forward.

There is one memory, however, that stands out above all others. In every church in which we were members, I knew that was MY church. I knew that I belonged there. I knew every nook and cranny of that church. I knew where things were kept. I knew where the ladies had their meetings, where the janitors’ closets were, where to hide from parents and siblings, where the communion supplies were kept, and even the secret room for the haunted house for Halloween.

I was a church kid from Day One. And I was not just any church kid. I was the daughter of Joe and Virginia Bock. That may not mean much to people far and wide, but in the churches in which we were members, it meant a great deal. Because my parents were church leaders. So, by default, I was a church leader. I was groomed for church leadership.

From the time I was little, I remember adults in the church trusting me with responsibilities that they did not always entrust to my peers. That may sound precocious or boastful, but I don’t mean it to sound either. I feel humbled by the fact; okay, a wee bit proud; proud, but happy and humble. Because I did my level best to live up to that trust, project by project, year after year.

I was the church kid who helped organize big church events. I helped in the kitchen. I helped lead worship. I was the youth representative on the church board. I served on committees. I did everything I was ever asked to do, including serve as our church’s representative at the 1975 General Assembly in San Antonio, when I was 17. I was the only member of our church to attend, that year.

I spent my life loving and feeling loved by my churches. I felt their love, their support, and their respect from my earliest days. That is an amazing gift to bestow upon a kid and I wish I could go back and thank every, single one of those people. If they could only know how it impacted my life. How it changed me for the better and made me into the person I am. What a gift is church.

But, all that changed one fateful day when I made a decision that was irrevocable. I made a decision that would impact the way church people would look at me forevermore. I would no longer be the little, church darling. I would no longer receive the automatic trust of church members, just because they’d always known and loved me. Suddenly, I was suspect. My every action and suggestion would be questioned.

In becoming a Timothy of the church, by answering the call of God into the Christian ministry, I had become someone I no longer recognized: The Deceitful Pastor! (Do you hear it? The dramatic Dun-dun-dun…?)

Okay, it’s not nearly that dire. But, there have been times when it has seemed that way. I have served churches with loving, supportive, faithful, happy people who were just delighted to be following in the footsteps of Jesus. And I have served churches with people who were just grumpy, suspicious, and slightly annoyed that following in the footsteps of Jesus required anything more than one hour on Sunday morning. And they were thoroughly convinced that pastors ONLY work that one hour on Sunday morning.

Now, as I’ve moved from church to church, no longer as the daughter of Joe and Virginia Bock, but as clergy, I’ve learned a few things.

Number one, I have some brilliant colleagues who have also experienced “The Deceitful Pastor Syndrome,” or at least something similar. These pastors have all too frequently been treated with distrust, disdain, anger, disrespect – all by their church members. They’ve been left reeling, wondering why they ever entered the ministry in the first place. Some of these pastors are the kindest, wisest, most gracious people I have ever known in my life, giving nearly 24/7/365 to the church. (If you don’t believe this, follow a minister around for a day, or two.) Some of them have left the ministry entirely, finding more peace in the secular world. (Now, that’s a sad commentary.)

Number two, church people are just people. Darn it, anyway. It doesn’t matter if we’re disciples of Christ or Disciples of Christ (my particular denomination), we’re still human. And we still act like it. Some of us are lovely and generous and supportive and enthusiastic and will always give others the benefit of the doubt. Some people are always able to find the hope and joy in being a child of God and the inherent responsibilities. Others are just not.

Number three, I’m still a church kid. I still love the church. When I’m serving a church and everyone is telling me, “Oh, this is so wonderful. We couldn’t get along without you,” and when I’m serving a church where my head is on the chopping block and there’s not a single soul there to stop the axe from falling, I still love the church. Because I was groomed for this. From the time I was a teeny, tiny girl, running through the hallways in my various churches, sneaking cookies from the tables at Coffee Hour, trying to be quiet during the Christian Women’s Fellowship meetings because I had to be there with my mom, babysitting kids in the nursery, reading scripture in worship, planning a Christmas Eve service, and painting weird designs on the walls in the youth room, I was groomed for this.

Whether my church members can see it or not, I’m still just as worthy of their trust and as hard working as I ever was. I’m still that same girl who never learned to say, “No,” even though one of the deacons in her church coached her on it 40 years ago.

So, “Yes!”

Just like so many of my colleagues out there, I say, “Yes!” I was made for church. My love of church may be a little warped, but it’s very real and it’s very strong. God called me to serve for a reason. So, here I am and here I stay. Still.

But I still want the graham crackers and orange juice.

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