My friend Sarah invited Katie and me to her church: Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I'd heard about how great this church is from another friend and I'd previously checked out their website, but I'd never gotten around to going. Katie recently asked if we could go to church, so we accepted Sarah's offer.
Everyone was warm and embracing. Katie had a blast. She went to Sunday school in a classroom for first through third graders. As we walked into the classroom the teachers greeted us and welcomed Katie, which I expected, but what I didn't expect was how friendly the kids would be. One boy in particular--Katie later told me his name is Mark--walked up to Katie and extended his hand, saying, "Welcome!" It was adorable.
While Katie attended Sunday School, Sarah and I attended a lecture by Alice Chamberlain of Communities Creating Opportunity, a faith-based organization that coordinated the Restaurant Worker's Strike in Kansas City this summer. The lecture is called "Unlocking the Power of People". Here's a blurb about it:
"Alice has mobilized over 100 congregations to engage on an Economic Dignity agenda through public action and direct voter contact. Developing leaders to fight for systemic solutions around livable wages, fair access to credit, and affordable healthcare, Alice believes the inherent dignity of every person should be recognized in our economy.
"Alice has a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, in Development Studies and has studied at the Midwest Academy: Organizing for Social Change. While at Berkeley, Alice co-founded and co-directed The Magnolia Project, an initiative to organize student trips to New Orleans to support the post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. Originally from Palo Alto, California, Alice has extensive organizing and policy experience. Prior to joining CCO, Alice was a Professional Organizer for American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public services employees union with more than 1.6 million active and retired members.
"Communities Creating Opportunity exists to discover, develop and direct the power of people of faith to build a better quality of life for their families. Working in over 100 diverse congregations throughout the Kansas City metro, we revitalize democracy and awaken faith in public life through leadership development and the regular engagement of over 80,000 voters across Missouri and Kansas.
"CCO’s core mission is to bring people of all faiths together to build relationships, develop strong leaders, and improve the quality of life in our communities. In very broad terms, CCO trains volunteers from area congregations in the leadership and advocacy skills required to effect the social change needed to improve the quality of life in their communities."
It was a fascinating lecture that fired me up and made me want to get involved. At the Restaurant Worker's Strike this summer, they had one of the men who worked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. C.T. Vivian.
Here's the video Ms. Chamberlain played for us showing highlights of the strike:
Here's the blurb from the video describing it:
"On July 29 and 30th, Communities Creating Opportunity joined groups across the Kansas City Metro to call for a living wage for fast food and retail employees. Joining the days of action was legendary Civil Rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian, a member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s inner circle.
"Across the Kansas City area, more than 26,000 workers labor in our fast-food industry make just $294 per week full-time with no health insurance or sick days. Workers' wages are so low, it's hard for them to afford the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, transportation.
"Their average age is 28 years old. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, and more. They work full-time hours, but live in poverty.
"This must end.
"As people of faith, we recognize that all humans have dignity and worth. We must stand against this suffering. We cannot, in good conscience, allow this preventable poverty to continue.
"Learn more at http://www.CCO.org"
After that riveting lecture, Sarah and I met Katie and the three of us joined the rest of the congregation in the sanctuary for prayers and song. Katie's normally pretty shy, but she was so excited, she even walked up to the front with the other children to join in the Children's Sermon where they got to ring bells on cue and shout "Hallelujah!" Katie was beaming the entire time.
After the Children's Sermon, Katie got to leave the sanctuary and join other kids for Awakening to Worship, a special service "to help children learn how to participate spiritually in worship." Sarah and I stayed for the sermon, which was about how important song is in our spiritual lives. The church just replaced their old hymnals with new ones, so the congregation was all jazzed about that. They told us all to take the old hymnals home with us.
Katie was thrilled when, after I picked her up from Awakening to Worship, I told her we could take a hymnal with us. She clutched it to her heart and said she was going to study it so she'll learn the songs. She asked if we could come back next Sunday and I assured her we could.
Pastor Rev. Jonas Hayes greeted Katie and me as we were leaving and he introduced us to a couple who has a son who was in Katie's Sunday school class.
Katie and I felt so welcomed. As we walked out the door, we grasped hands and Katie asked, "Can this be our church?"
As I've written before, I'm not a huge fan of organized religion. Too often I've felt burned by so-called Christians spewing more hatred than love from their mouths. For a while I didn't consider myself to be a Christian even though that's the faith in which I was raised. I came out of the closet as a Christian recently, but I still hadn't had the energy to find a church or pursue it further than reading Bible stories to Katie and answering her philosophical questions as best I could. We had tried another church a few years ago, but I got annoyed with their pleas for funding to send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I just couldn't imagine Jesus died on the cross so two people could vacay in the Caribbean.
I didn't imagine there would ever be a church for me. I'm too questioning. I believe in science and evolution. I think God loves everyone. People of all faiths and colors and creeds. Even gay people. Even atheists. I don't think God prefers one person to another. I think God loves all of us and I believe we are all God's children. The kind of relationship we each have with God is as individual as we are. I don't like it when people judge others and tell them that if they don't do this or that they'll burn for eternity in Hell. Those kinds of people piss me off. But I still love them, no matter how hard it is. I think that's what Jesus wants me to do.
I think this church might help me learn different ways I can love people the way Jesus does.
"Can it be our church?" Katie asked.
Borrowing a phrase from my wise husband, I said, "Sure, why not."
When we got home Katie set her hymnal down, stood straight, with a look of worry in her eye and said, "Does this mean I can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anymore?!"
"What? Does what mean you can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" I asked.
"Going to church," Katie explained.
"Why would going to church mean you can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" I asked, trying not to laugh.
"Because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all about fighting and Jesus is all about peace and love," Katie explained.
"Oh. Well I don't think Jesus will mind if you watch a cartoon that's not even real that has fighting in it. You're not the one doing the fighting, are you?" I reasoned.
"No!" Katie shouted and then blew air out of her mouth so hard it made a whistle. "Whew!"
She's going through a big morality phase. She wants to do everything the right way. Too often I don't know what the right way is when she asks me for guidance. There are so many right ways. I don't think this church will have all the answers. I don't even think a person has to go to church or believe in God to have a set of moral values. But Lord knows I need all the help I can get answering all of Katie's big questions about life. I think Grace Covenant can help.