Churches aren’t perfect… especially in the eyes of its church body. I know I have played critic too many times, sadly letting goofy hairstyles and jokes prick my skin to the point where I can’t listen to the truth being shared. Even an “honorable complaint” like “not enough scripture” puts me at risk of pride and judgement of others. But most of all, it acts as a barrier to receiving God’s word, like chains crossed over my heart.
Home, as we now call it, entails a wide range of discomforts that does not exclude our churches. I say churches, plural, because we haven’t quite landed on one. In fact, we’ve landed on two: both in Browning, the heart of Blackfeet Nation, 15 miles away.
The first is a Methodist church run by a very likable young couple we’ve befriended. With a small, intimate congregation, they meet in a cozy, yet enchantingly beautiful sanctuary lined in cedar and stunning stained glass. It’s a bit more liturgical than we’re accustomed to (think response readings and ceremonial candle lighting), but the congregation is sweet and caring, hosting monthly potlucks for the community to enjoy. We see a range of folks join us for the meal. Some smell of alcohol; others smell of humility and good humor. They teach us Blackfeet terms and phrases and sincerely thank us when they leave.
The other church is sure something. This one has a large congregation of mostly Natives. Everyone is kind and welcoming, and upon meeting us, often ask if we are teachers or nurses, the two jobs that routinely bring white folks into town. [We never figured out how to explain why we came, and most find it strange that we didn’t come for work.]
At the onset, we struggled to feel comfortable there in our own skin, painfully white compared to our neighbors. Plus, the church was quite charismatic! While it was unfamiliar and new (not to mention, awkward at times), it was truly beautiful to witness the collective crying and clapping as everyone praised the Lord so fully with heart and soul.
If you’ve never seen someone weep openly in need of our Lord or sing with their arms stretched so high and straight that their elbows bend inward, you should at least visit other churches. I’m not saying it has to be this way, but it certainly feels right in the deepest part of your soul that knows you simply cannot fathom the incredible love of Jesus… or just how to respond.
For how beautiful I see it now, the discomfort of it all kept us away in the beginning. That’s what comfort does to us. It spoils us. Closes our minds. Robs us of experiencing something extraordinary.
I’m not sure what it took to open our eyes or give us courage to continue to show up, looking so different in our white skin and guarded mannerisms. But seven months into our fated move here, we are planting roots and experiencing great victories. Not because we finally figured it all out, but because we finally surrendered our former comforts for the challenges that God has invited us to shoulder. How lucky we are to have two churches! How blessed we are to have two congregations and pastors; two worship styles and sermons. How fortunate we are to grow in our levels of acceptance of other cultures.
So for now, we will soak in the challenges and let the Lord guide us each week. Shoot, we’re just happy we can make the drive these days! In winter, that 15-mile journey is not for the faint of heart.