Get over yourself.
It’s true this congregation is small and elderly. That doesn’t mean they are blind. We see your expressions of disgust. Your body language radiates contempt. You shuffle in late and rush out immediately afterwards. You roll your eyes at the liturgy. Smirk at the greeter.
I would say maybe you are uncomfortable, but the truth is you are downright rude. Don’t you think we have ears? We hear your nails clack against the screen as you text during service. Your whispered mockery carries to the pews around you. Yes, we stand and sit and stand again. Yes, we have an altar and stain glass windows. Yes, there is actual wine used in communion. What did you expect visiting a traditional Lutheran church?
Perhaps you are visiting for a class. If that is the case, all the more shame on you. How can you take other denominations seriously if you do nothing but look for differences? You alienate your own family and in doing so cause more pain to this sweet, loving congregation than you know.
Do you feel more comfortable, surrounding yourself with your friends and barely speaking to anyone else? You come in packs. I understand it might feel awkward showing up alone. There is security in likeminded friends but also complacency. You circle in on yourselves like a wagon train afraid of attack. These older Christians may wear hearing aids and take a few minutes to stand up, but the truth is they have more wisdom and life experience to offer than a whole room full of college students.
We heard you grumbling about filling out the Guest Card. Something about spam in your inbox and receiving enough e-mails already. The truth is the older gentleman who asked you to do that will take those cards and pray over them all week. By Wednesday you will get a card in the mail, not an impersonal thanks, but a hand-written note of gratitude that you came. The lady sitting behind you will text you on Friday and ask how your week went. The pastor’s wife will make sure you know when the next fellowship meal is, and she’ll probably send you home with food. The whole congregation will remember your name and greet you with joy the next time you come.
If you come back.
Few do, much to their loss.
I know it is hard to be a college student away from home and without a church. Congregations rarely treat you like an actual member. They expect you to move on and you either get ignored or become a short term project. So you seek a new church, one “meeting your needs.” And when that one fails to do it, yet another. Especially here in the South, you have limitless choices. That cycle leads to burnout. By your senior year, I guarantee you will think the church is overrated. Out of touch. Unconnected with your faith.
I’m not saying my church is the answer to your problems. All I know is that it was the answer to mine. You barge in, full of arrogance and self-supposed superiority, and you miss the earnest sweetness of this Body. You miss the power of gathering together and repeating the Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed. You miss the beauty of these old hymns. You miss the wisdom of the sermon. Today the pastor preached on believing the fullness of God’s promises. It spoke to me, but did you even hear it? We all heard your phone. Could you hear our love?
Because this congregation does love you. It is not just because you are young. It is not because you are a new face. They love you because you stepped through those doors. It is something I still cannot fully grasp. It refreshes my soul every time I come Sunday morning. I wish you could experience it.
But you rushed, you eye-rolled, and finally you rejected. What you didn’t see was the wistful glances sent your way as you hurried to your car. You missed the questions directed at Rina and me, the only two college students who remained. “Do you know them? Couldn’t they stay for lunch? Will they be back?”
I don’t know if my words will reach you. I pray they do. I hope you will enter that next congregation more respectfully, that you will listen and befriend those around you. I pray God will lead you to a place you will grow. If you go to church for warm fuzzies and an emotional high, your faith will falter. I know because mine did. A good church body keeps you grounded. Fellowship, communal reading of God’s word, prayer with other believers, and submission to one another develop a stronger Christian walk. In our individualistic culture, I challenge you to recognize that the church was not designed for your personal pleasure or pure edification. It is give and take. It’s a family and in some ways all the clichés about family apply. Family can be embarrassing, confusing, and painful. Yet in the end, no one is more committed to you. We need fellow believers in all our messiness and pain because together we grow. Together we encourage, admonish, strengthen, and testify to God’s faithfulness in our lives every single day. Faith doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
Find a church and instead of thinking about what you can get, find ways you can give. It starts, though, with grace and understanding. I do encourage you to get over yourself. Set aside your pride. Turn off your phone. Listen, really listen, to those around you. I hope you can hear the love they are trying to send your way. This family wants to embrace you. Please, let them bless you.