Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why we go to church at Berry

This was read last Sunday, by the author, in our church here in Chicago. He’s a twenty something musician. It’s his response to why he’s part of Berry UMC. I asked him if I could share it b/c it touched me so as a profound reminder of how important the small church is in the world.

Here’s some background about his references to help make sense of the whole:
• Sherrie is the pastor.
• Ben is a 5 year old rambunctious boy, most often found almost tripping any number of people as he runs in and around our legs, during fellowship time. He's often chasing his twin sister or younger sister.
• Temma is the pastor’s daughter who has the capacity of about a 3 month old. She comes to church every Sunday, is wheelchair bound and 23 years old. Our sanctuary is on the 2nd floor and there is no elevator. It takes at least three strong people to carry her up and down those stairs.

Why I Go to Berry
by Matt

The first Sunday that I attended Berry around 5 years ago, the benediction was in the form of Wendell Berry’s “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

I remember Sherrie’s reiteration of the final lines. “Go now… be like the fox, making more tracks then necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.”

At the time, I was visiting Chicago on tour, while still living in Michigan. In the interest of time, lets say that I was a hardened and withering Fundamentalist attending a 1,400 member congregation with 2 jumbo-tron screens, a neon backlit white plastic cross, and a sense that nothing could happen unless it was MASSIVELY visceral and overwhelming.

I say this, not to condemn that church or way of experiencing God, but to acknowledge the immaturity of my own perceptions and lack of engagement in that community. My judgments kept me from seeing anything through the thick “God presence” fog emanating from a hissing machine behind the plastic plants on stage. I always missed the message because I was so busy noting the production, which was so completely incredible that I was sure – through a well-timed fan letter – it would be featured on This American Life with the suggested title, “Weekly Circus: Super-sizing Sunday Service in Middle America.”

I had disengaged and to curb my frustrations, I was assuming the role of an anthropological scientist. “Just here to watch.”

It’s no surprise that the first visit to Berry was slightly alarming. Everything was completely other to me. It was small. There wasn’t a safe 400th row to bob and weave my way through toward the door. Sherrie took long, considerate breathes between thoughts, which was a revelation in itself. “She’s actually thinking as she talks.” I was in love with the unrehearsed, unpolished, and sometimes down-right raw way that things occurred. Children showing me Jesus by freely running amuck. People shared defaming prayers of joy and concern in the safety and trust of the community.

“Who will serve communion?” How about you and you? And there was communion, without spiritual hierarchy or micro-management. It made sense to me. I could not remain anonymous because this wasn’t a drive-thru window. And though I maybe thought that was what I wanted, it wasn’t. This was a meal at a small table in a friend’s home. It was honest and loving, and that was about all that it needed to be. A community of engagement.

I’ve been here ever since, and I’m a part of it simply because I love it. I see Christ in the minutia here and at times when I’m most uncertain of belief, that is exactly what I need. A still small voice. It could be Ben singing “Jesus Loves Me” or it could be a few of us and Temma making our way down the stairs.

I want to end with a quote from Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City on the Make…

Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.

Berry: Community on the Make