Our Pledge To You

News

FOUNTAIN: Even as a ‘church boy,’ feeling like an outcast

This is an excerpt from John Fountain’s forthcoming book: “No Place For Me: Letters to the Church in America”

The feeling of suppression at church — whether at True Vine or some of the local churches where I had been a member — hung over me constantly, like a dark cloud, my soul swirling in the wind.

For years, I wondered whether there was something wrong with me, whether I indeed really loved God. Whether I would ever find a church that accepted and embraced me the way I had seen it embrace others.

It left me feeling, even as a “church boy,” like an outcast, like someone who — without the official public blessing of a bishop or even my own grandfather as being “one of us” — was forever destined to be on the outside looking in, even if I was sitting in the pew and my name on the church’s rolls.

At church, I felt like I needed a sponsor and that I never really had one — except my grandmother. I sometimes complained to her about rarely being given the opportunity to preach. “Don’t worry about preaching. You’ll get the chance to preach plenty. There’s more to being a pastor and leading people than preaching,” she said, consoling. “Preaching is easy…”

I knew she was right. But her words didn’t soothe me.

By the time we reached Ann Arbor, Michigan, the collective experience of worshipping and also church shopping and having been a member of various and sundry Christian churches had stirred a certain awakening. In one sense, it was liberating. For it exacted a certain measure of spiritual maturity as well as a less rigid view of Christianity.

I also encountered many wonderful people for whom their church — despite any of its shortcomings — was an anchor for their community of faith.

And yet, even if a church was all that to some of its members, it could also be none of that to other members attending the same church.

I also found in the church a sense of favoritism, cronyism and cliques. I found too often a disconnection from or a complete failure to meet the needs of the church’s — and the extended community’s — most needy.

Whether it was a church’s inability or its inattention to this fundamental part of its mission, I cannot say.
I remember distinctly the church whose pastor declined to dip into the church’s coffers to feed the homeless who visited on some Sundays and who, by the time they returned to the homeless shelter, would have missed supper. So a few church members brought food to church for our homeless visitors or else cooked or paid for Sunday dinner at a restaurant.

What I found at church too often was a lot of singing and melodious music, preaching and lessons on loving thy neighbor. But overall the church seemed to have devolved into a mushy feel-good experience in which we were members of the on-my-way-to-heaven social club.

And yet, when I cut through the haze of spiritual song and dance and all the preaching, I saw within the church dressed up sick and hurting people who came each Sunday and left, for the most part, the same way they had come. People who seldom seemed to matriculate to victory and independence.

I was among them, hemorrhaging in the pews and feeling mostly out of place.

As we headed toward Ypsilanti, Michigan, on the verge of a new century, a new millennium — bound on a search for yet another new church, my head buzzed and I felt a sense of butterflies.

And the car’s wheels rolled as the years of disappointment, anxiety and heartbreak I had encountered so many times before swirled like dust in a gust of wind.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.