Many of my Facebook friends have been asking how the conversation went on Monday with the pastor who did a 15-week sermon series on marriage. For those who read this blog and don’t know what I am talking about, here is a little background.
I am visiting churches in my area as I seek to find a new church to call home. One church in particular, I visited towards the end of summer and beginning of fall. While I attended, this particular pastor started a “several week” sermon series on marriage. I cringed when I first heard that. Out of my own bias, I tend to lean towards the lectionary and away from a long drawn out series. At the same time, I am not a fan of the church focusing so much attention on one particular group. This sermon series sounded as if he were headed in that direction.
I gave the benefit of the doubt and listened to the first five or six sermons because he kept making it clear that it was a series for all people in relationship. Well, the first 5-6 sermons focused on marriage and marriage alone. Then it was a sermon halfway through that turned me away, a sermon to the single people. In that sermon, this pastor apologized to the married population for doing this one sermon to the single people. Yet, there were never any apologies to the single, divorced or widowed population for spending a significant amount of time on marriage.
After a few months away, I sent an email to this pastor about my concerns and asked to be removed from the mailing list. I waited a few months because I had to let go of the anger and frustration of something I’ve seen over and over again in the church. There is such an emphasis on marriage and family in the church, that everyone else is either forgotten or made to feel like second-class church citizens. Watch when a couple or families come to join the church. Look at the celebration that comes from the congregation. Then watch when someone else joins, one not in relationship, one who comes from a broken family, a divorced marriage, or an “older” individual who has never been married. There is usually a significant difference in attitude and welcome.
Even as a minister, I experienced the same attitude from churches and fellow ministers. When I was interviewing for church ministerial positions, it was more than once that I was asked the question, “How can you be a Minister to Families when you aren’t married?” Or I was asked the ever-popular question that churches can get away with, “Why aren’t you married?” When I did work in the church, it was assumed I had more time available to work because I didn’t have a family. And when I was a church minister, I was also looked over by colleagues because there was no way I could understand what it was like to serve in a church and to do so with a family to attend to as well. Since I didn’t have that experience, fellow ministers, and fellow sisters in ministry, chose not to accept me either. Other colleagues had to set boundaries and limit conversations because I am single, when all I was looking for was a sister, a brother and a family to share the journey.
Before I had the conversation with the pastor, I had to let go of my attitude from feeling the resentment of watching marriage and families catered to in a way others will rarely encounter. I had to be sure the anger wasn’t about me and more about all who are discounted and neglected. There are people who are “singled out” for being single; people are forgotten because they don’t have the perfect family; individuals who are searching for community when they don’t have a community of their own; all of these people who are searching and seeking to find this in a church, and finding out they don’t belong. I wasn’t speaking for me anymore. I was standing for all who are neglected and forgotten.
We sat in his office and held conversation for an hour and a half. Since I had shared all I felt and believed in my email, I was prepared for him to share all he believed in person, and he did. He explained why he had this series, some of which did include sermons for everyone near the end of the series. He shared his preparation and experience that led to this decision. I listened and respected what he had to say. It did seem to me that he put a good deal of thought and perspective on why he was led to do what he did.
At the same time, it was his perspective; from a man married for many years and a minister for just as long. One piece of his perspective was the fact that by 2013, the covenant of marriage has come to a place of being discounted, with nonchalant behavior and commitment on both parties. Marriage isn’t important to people anymore. When things go bad, divorce becomes the quick fix. Living together without the covenant has become the norm. What happened to the vows? To the promise? To being united as one?
After he was done, I commended him for his preparation for this conversation. I also agreed on the fact there is a disconnect with marriage. People do give up on themselves to easily and marriage becomes the casualty, which leads to divorce. He apologized that what he did caused angst with me and his intentions were not to alienate any group. He could also see why I felt the way I did. I did acknowledge that I did not listen to the last several sermons, which he said did have a focus outside of marriage. I shared with him my perspective, that marriage isn’t what’s being discounted but everybody else who isn’t married is, including the widowed and divorced. I gave the examples mentioned earlier, with a reminder of the number of people in scripture who were single, widowed and without family. I explained that I didn’t want groups and individuals to be singled out. That’s not what the church is for. The “singled adult group” is gone. We don’t want that. We want to be a part of the kingdom and accepted by the church family. In a world where families neglect one another, the church should be the one place where everyone is loved. It feels as if the church and many of her people believe that being married and having families will get a better pew in the sanctuary and a comfortable seat at the table. Why does there have to be such a focus on one group when the community and the kingdom are made of many?
At the end of the conversation, there was respect and prayer. We didn’t come together in agreement on who was right and wrong. That wasn’t the purpose. We listened to one another and shared our views. What it came down to was something that matters most to what we do in ministry and for Jesus Christ. The church is the Body of Christ, with the ear, eye, and nose all having an important contribution to make in serving the kingdom. The only difference is his church meets in a sanctuary and my church meets in the hospital. We did agree on a point that mattered to me, a table has been set and all should be invited to partake. In fact, all were invited to partake and by the very One who prepared it, Jesus Christ.
Why can’t we all sit at the same table and break bread together?