There is a story in the book “Spirituality of Imperfection” that is about a scruffy old man from the fringes of society that appears in the congregation of a wealthy suburban church. He begins to attend this church and comes every week like clockwork. His presence makes the other parishioners uncomfortable because he is definitely not like them. Finally after services one Sunday the cleric in charge of this congregation approaches the old man and asks him why he keeps coming to this particular church. The minister is uncomfortable too with the presence of this fellow whose appearance is somewhat unkempt and unclean. The old man tells the minister that he likes this congregation and would like to become a member of it. This really startles and frightens the minister and he begins to discourage the old man, but the old fellow insists that he’d like to stay. Finally the minister suggests that the old man pray about this and return the following week when they can discuss his possible membership in the congregation.
A week elapses and the old man once again comes to church and following the service the pastor anxious to be rid of the old fellow asks if he has prayed. The old man assures the cleric that he has prayed and that God has given him an answer. The minister asks if the old gentleman would share with him the answer he received. The old guy says, “God told me that he had been trying to get into this church for over ten years and he’s had no luck either.”
Last nights’ quote from Lenny Bruce reminded me of this story and that’s what’s wrong with many of the churches that exist today. Welcoming the stranger, the resident alien, the foreigner, the widower, the person outside our comfort zone is not easy and many churches today are agents of the status quo. Instead of being prophetic many of these are cold and pathetic. A fellow Secular Franciscan and I had a long talk along these lines last month on our ride home from the Kateri Shrine. He and his wife had attended a local Catholic Church and the service was over in 23 minutes. There was no warmth, no community and no desire on their part to return to this parish. I’ve been to that parish and their probably canononically correct in every respect. They are obedient to Rome and the local diocese and they are colder than an ice cube. Peace.