by Father Mark Goldasich
Wow, it looks like this pastor was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Here’s the story:
Julie and Bob Clark were stunned to receive a letter from their church in July asking them to “participate in the life of the church” or worship elsewhere.
“They basically called us freeloaders,” said Julie.
“We were freeloaders,” said Bob.
In a trend that may signal rough times for wallflower Christians, megachurch Faith Community of Winston-Salem has asked “nonparticipating members” to stop attending.
“No more Mr. Nice Church,” said the executive pastor, newly hired from AT&T Mobility.
“Providing free services indefinitely to complacent Christians is not our mission. . . . When your bottom line is saving souls, you get impatient with people who interfere with that goal.”
Faith Community sent polite but firm letters to families who attended church services and freebie events but never volunteered, never tithed and did not belong to a small group or other ministry. The church estimates that, of its 8,000 regular attendees, only half have volunteered in the past three years, and a third have never given to the church.
“Before, we made people feel comfortable and welcome, and tried to coax them to give a little something in return,” said a staff member. “That’s changed. We’re done being the community nanny.”
Surprisingly, the move to disinvite people has drawn a positive response from the men in the community who like the idea of an in-your-face church.
“I thought, ‘A church that doesn’t allow wimps — that rocks,’” said Bob Clark, who admires the church more since they told him to get lost.
P.S. This is not a true story, though we wish it were. (Taken from Joel Kirkpatirck’s “Mega-Church Downsizes, Cuts Non-Essential Members,” found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, editors.)
Oh my, could you imagine what the outcry would be if some church actually did send a letter like this? Honestly, though, Christians shouldn’t be freeloaders or wallflowers.
I love the line from last Sunday’s first reading where the two men in white garments say to the apostles after Jesus ascended, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” In other words, “Uh, Jesus just told you to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. So, what exactly are you waiting for?”
I get the sense that the apostles would have preferred to let the risen Jesus do all the work. They’d be content to just tag along for the ride. But, of course, that’s not what Christianity is all about. It’s something that’s lived, it’s demanding, and it calls for the sacrifice of what is most precious to us: our time and energy. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to do this work alone.
Last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us that, as the apostles went out to preach, “the Lord worked with them.” Notice that it doesn’t say the Lord worked instead of them. And the first reading promised, “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So, we have both Jesus and the Spirit as coworkers.
A third “helper” is the community that gathers to pray. We’re all in this faith stuff together: to challenge one another, to support one another and to use our many and various talents to build up the body of Christ.
As we celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, we’re invited to put aside our fears and our reluctance and instead be bold about our faith and proclaim it — not only in word, but especially in action. We’re to be active participants in Christianity, not passive observers. And we can do all this because we have the Holy Spirit within us, Jesus as our model and guide, and the community for encouragement.
At times, we’re probably all freeloaders and wallflowers when it comes to our faith. This Pentecost, why not start to change that?
Let’s take seriously the command of Jesus that we hear at the end of every Mass: Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. If we fail to do that, we just might find one of “those letters” from the Lord in our mailbox.