Most of us complain about church life at some point. Some of us complain a lot. All of us need to read this stunning short essay by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican (ACNA) pastor, about what she has endured over these last six months … and how her church has helped her through it. Excerpts:
In six months, I had lost my home, my father, a terrifying amount of blood, and two babies. I am grieving. I know mine is not the worst sorrow or loss in the world. It’s not even the worst trial of my friends this year. Still, here I am. In a difficult season of pain and loss.
I am learning something in a new and deeper way: Grief does indeed get everywhere, but so does mercy. I am seeing that there is no place of suffering to which God might send us where beauty, grace, and blessing can’t reach. With each new sorrow, moments of beauty still turn up. They seep in. They find me. The hope of the resurrection persists. And so does the goodness of God in the small moments of my day. Even today, even here, even now, grace surprises and abounds. I feel lost and in the dark, but mercy finds me, again and again and again. Sometimes slowly. But nevertheless.
This mercy has often come through my church. There are a thousand ways that the church, global and local, fails, and it’s easy — especially for those of us who spend a lot of time online or on the news — to only hear of problems in the church. People have built careers on pointing out her deficiencies and sins.
What doesn’t make headlines is the quiet work that imperfect but good churches do, week in and week out.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was afraid the head pastor — my boss — would be mad or disappointed since I had started work less than a month before. Instead, he hugged me and said, “We will do whatever we can to support your family.” How many women in the secular world would love that response from their bosses when they found out they were pregnant? When we miscarried the second time, our Director of Ministry said to me, “We were planning on giving you maternity leave, so we will now give you miscarriage leave.” After six crushing months, they generously hung in there with us and gave us extra time off to cry, to pray, to rest, to heal.People have prayed for us. People dropped off food and more food. Our doctor, a fellow church member, constantly poured over medical records and research, showed up at the ER, and prayed with me. Two college students dropped off a giant box of art supplies for my kids. My church has constantly showed hospitality and grace to a clergy family who were hired to come lead and, almost immediately, were weak, in need, and in crisis.
It doesn’t trend on twitter when a middle-age church member drops off a casserole or when people gathered around us to pray or when friends sat with us in a memorial service for our lost child. The most persistent and gracious goodness in the church will never be widely noticed, much less hashtagged. But nevertheless mercy has come to us through her.
Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. Share it. Print it out, put it on the bulletin board at your church. People need to read this, to be encouraged in their struggles, and also to have a vision of what the little way of ordinary church life can mean to those who are hurting.
Tish, by the way, is a personal friend of mine, a great writer, and an even better human being. Please check out her book Liturgy Of The Ordinary.
UPDATE: Links fixed; sorry.