AFTER MANY disappointments with churches I had decided not to darken their doors again. I was over it. Big time. Over the decades I had put up with not feeling accepted or respected, feeling used and abused, feeling worthless and an abject failure, a sinner and a leper. Regardless of how much I tried to do for God in and through the church, I never felt good enough; I always felt like an outsider on the edge of the church and never ever close to God’s chosen few in his inner circle. That was what I had experienced in churches. It was not what God had been telling me.
God is Love. His perfect love brings his unconditional acceptance of all people regardless of whether we know him yet or not. God loves the person in the pew as much as he loves the person in the pulpit. We are all equal in his eyes; he has no favourites. Regrettably, many churches have failed to exhibit this core characteristic of our awesome God. And by not showing that love, people have turned from the church in droves. For me, the final straw came when I was confronted with unimaginable abuse from a denominational leader, something so unspeakable that my faith was left shattered, sharp shards splintering all around me. The thought of church sickened me and to go was no longer an option. But that was not the end of my story.
In that frightening time I began to re-evaluate my faith by going back to foundational beliefs of who God is, reaffirming my belief in God the Father, his Son—the Lord Jesus Christ—and the Holy Spirit; what salvation meant—and did not mean—what it meant to have a personal relationship with God and knowing him as my Father, myself as his daughter. I was drawn back to a pivotal Bible passage that over the decades had been a significant source of comfort and encouragement:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
These verses had enabled me to cope with the hurt from churches and moved me on in my walk with God. Jesus did not tell us to go to church; rather he urges us to come to him, to learn of him, to be so closely linked with him that we would experience the reality of his gentleness and his humility. This, sadly, is often so far removed from what churches preach and practise.
Every aspect of the fundamental evangelical teachings I had imbibed over the decades that were not of God were ripped away. I was left standing with God alone, nothing more—simply clinging to the cross of Christ, in Christ alone. It was from there that God began to rebuild my faith, to teach me from his Word what I needed to know about being a believer, how to live for him, and how to lovingly relate to those around me. It had been a lonely journey; I longed for authentic Christian fellowship and to share with others their experiences of living for God as a true disciple of Christ. In short, I wanted to belong to a faith community, something akin to those mentioned in the New Testament writings. It seemed like an impossible dream.
In mid-2019 I relocated back to Outback Queensland and began attending All Saints Anglican Church in Charleville. I knew most of the folk there and was also pleased to see that a group of Solomon Islanders had started going there, bringing with them their vibrant faith in God. In addition, the new minister was a breath of fresh air, passionate for God and with a clear vision for the Church in the Outback. Having had so many of my bigoted beliefs stripped away and discovering that not only was my idea of God far too small, he was, in fact, incredibly vast and all-embracing, extravagant in his love, grace and mercy. These were all positive components that contributed to my knowing that at last I had found my spiritual home. In this place I could be myself, share my faith, listen to and accept others where they were at in theirs, be involved in the life of the church and the broader community, exercise my ministry gifts and encourage others in theirs. Ours is not a perfect church. I was never looking for a perfect church—there is no such place.
Many people associate church with Sunday attendance in a building. That is only a small part of the picture. Church relates to the gathering of people who meet there, who worship together and share their lives with each other in a significant way. It is not merely about sitting in a church pew looking at the back of the neck of the person in front. It is more than “sharing the peace”, then forgetting about who we have spoken to for the rest of the week. Church is about community, about learning to live with one another despite our differences, and about experiencing God’s love, joy and peace within the body of Christ, his Church.
Now that I have found my church, I can understand its value in my walk with God, and can confidently answer the question—Why Church? Because I need it; we all need to know the reality of a caring faith community where we can be ourselves, express our faith in God, care for, love and encourage one another and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).