I moved from Brooklyn to Queens a little over 4 years ago. When I moved I decided that I would like to get involved in the community and do something more than I had been doing. Honestly I was feeling pretty empty and tired of living just for myself.
So I moved on a Saturday and the next morning was my first at a church called New Life Fellowship. When I arrived at the Elks men’s club now turned community church, I was amazed at the mixture of cultures all under one ancient roof.
When the band started playing, I was overwhelmed at the love and acceptance that radiated from a room of people singing about how they needed something more in their lives.
I grew up in a home where we went to church regularly, but I had not been going anywhere consistently for the 4 years that I was in NYC. I was tired of feeling unconnected whenever I did try. I wanted to connect with others on a level that was deeper than “How was your week? Fine, good, mine too.” Like there was an underlying fear of getting too personal and opening “pandora’s box”.
So when a man I assumed to be the pastor stood up and began to speak on that wintery day in mid-January, I still wasn’t sure about this place. And once more I was not only amazed, I was shocked. The man started sharing stories about his life. He spoke about he and his wife and how there was a point in their marriage that they were thinking about divorce. How his wife left the church because he was so overcommitted to the church that he had neglected his family.
My mouth literally dropped open. I was mistaken, this wasn’t the pastor…couldn’t be. When was this messed up guy going to sit down so that the sermon could start?!
As he spoke I struggled internally with this thought that someone in leadership could have such a history. Someone that is supposed to have it all together could struggle? Not only struggle but announce it to his entire congregation?!
And then strangely a wash of relief spread over me. HE doesn’t have it all together. I don’t have it all together. All I need to do is be authentic, search, and grow. To know God…isn’t to be perfect. And I shouldn’t pretend it is. Bringing light to darkness is what God does, but we don’t need to act like our souls are all constantly living in Cali on a bright summer day.
Apparently this pastor and his wife ended up writing a book or two on this subject after realizing what was going on with their lives. Books about being transparent, setting boundaries, and allowing your relationship with God and with others to be flawed but growing.
What is unconditional love? Loving through the mess ups. “Through good times and bad;” Isn’t that what we say when we make a life-long marriage commitment to one another? And isn’t that what we are all essentially looking for?
Here was a place not only teaching it, but also living it and encouraging others to as well. Now to me that was amazing. Churches aren’t supposed to do that are they?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a perfect place; it is full of people like me. Struggling and many times doing the wrong thing. But then we deal with it, say we are sorry, and grow.
I kind of think that’s some of what God had in mind for the church in the first place. Searching, being authentic, and loving one another where they are.