A crucifix at St. Michael’s Cemetery stands against a stormy sky Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Collyer, Kan.

John Fountain: ‘I was hemorrhaging in the pew’

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I am a sinner. I stand with one foot in each world, one called sin, the other called grace. I stand in the midst of sins I have committed today and yesterday and those I will inevitably commit on tomorrow. I stand because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I stand here, somewhere on the timeline of Christianity — more than 2,000 years after the Day of Pentecost, 17 centuries after Roman Emperor Constantine the Great placed his thumbprint on Christianity, and many years after the Great Awakenings. I stand somewhere in the afterglow of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which gave birth to modern Pentecostalism in America.


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Shaped in iniquity, I am the son of an alcoholic father, predestined to dysfunction, death and damnation. And I am certain that the church — which I attended since I was a child — had a critical hand in the faith that pulled me through poverty, hardship, and away from the gates of hell.

If I close my eyes, I can tunnel through time, through years of Sunday worship service, of singing in the choir, or my roles in countless Easter and Christmas plays since I was knee high. I see me standing in the sanctuary as a teenage junior deacon, or plucking my guitar during worship service.

Or I stand preaching from the pulpit as a minister, Grandmother shouting, Amens and the saints egging me on to: “Preach the Word!”

I see a different man than I am today: Younger, fervent, more idealistic.

And yet, I stand mostly alone these days — at least apart from the church I once knew.

Slowly, I began slipping away — first, a Sunday here and there. I stopped attending Bible study. Sunday School. Eventually, Sundays became days to sleep in or mornings to sit and sip a cup of coffee at a local café. This was preferable to the weekly hemorrhaging in the pew that Sundays at church had become — listening to Buffalo fish-sermons, prosperity preaching, political spiels from visiting candidates, or hype-’em-up hooping and hollering, half-sung homilies that had about the same effect as a sugar sandwich on white bread.

I say “Buffalo fish-sermons” because the tasty, flaky white fish is filled with so many bones that the sifting for the bones that can kill you make the meat for me not even worth the while, and, in fact, safer to avoid altogether. I came to believe that the church prefers the majority of its men to be spineless, speechless and sack-less — with regard to criticizing the pastor, the church or the status quo. That for some, attending church has become the Sunday ritual for proving how much better or holier “they” are than “us.”

By the time I stopped attending church in 2005, I was sick of church, literally. Toward the end, I would get a migraine. At my worst, I felt like I needed a drink.

I felt like I was dying in church, hemorrhaging in the pew. My mind drifted in and out of consciousness and my soul longed for rescue from the agony of enduring another church service that only slowly sucked the life away from me with dogma, with irrelevant or inept sermons and the recital of canned “church-isms.”

And yet, on Him I still stand. For His church — not the building, but the Body of Christ — shall prevail. Upon this truth, my faith has always rested.

Even if I now find in the institutional church in America no place for me.

Excerpted from John Fountain’s forthcoming book, “No Place For Me: Letters to the Church in America” (WestSide Press, August 2015).

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