Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Not a Church-goer

Yesterday I buried a good man. He had lived for 80 years, and died very suddenly of leukaemia. Here was someone who had started his own company and provided employment for many people in the garment-knitting industry. Someone who participated in Rotary for 35 years, organising major fund-raising events for scholarships for deserving children – for which he received the Paul Harris Award. Here is someone who gained his pilot’s licence so that he could volunteer to fly mercy missions for Red Cross. A man who is remembered by his children as one who paid attention to their lives and encouraged their dreams. His granddaughter spoke at the funeral of a Grandfather who taught her fishing, and gave advice on boyfriends and other important 12 year-old issues.

He walked on the mountains every Sunday morning. Sometimes instead of the mountains he would go to sea in his boat, or go into rough terrain in his 4X4 Pajero. This was a real man’s man, who gathered other men around him and inspired them to live life more fully. There were many, many men in church, attesting to this fact.

This man did not go to church. His wife did. And she asked if I would be willing to lead the funeral service. And I heard her apologetic tone that he had “not been a churchgoer.” As if not going to church was some shameful thing!

So here’s the thing: going to church does not qualify a person for anything. We are not better for being a church-goer; we are not wiser, or happier, or more loved by God. In fact I have met some of the most bigoted, spiteful, hateful, pompous people in church. And I know some of the most gentle, generous, compassionate people who have nothing to do with any church.

You see – I believe that God does not keep a register of “Sunday’s absent” from church. There is no heavenly reward for the number of hours given to church. Church is a human invention that meets a human need. And if it meets your need – then fine. But please do not feel guilty for not being a “church-goer”. What really counts is whether we have led lives that are Christ-like: Are we compassionate? Do we strive for justice? And do we show mercy?

Personally I believe that by collecting Christ-followers around me I will find courage when I am weak, and a place of accountability when I am arrogant. But the bureaucracy of organised religion, and the strutting of peacocks in clerical garb, and the blatant manipulation of people’s fears in order to keep bums on seats have nothing to do with Jesus. This is about the human attempt at control. And I want nothing to do with it.

So please bring the unchurched to be buried – and to be married, and encouraged, and to be blessed. I do not care if you are a member of a church or not.


Anonymous said...

Hat's off to you friend........

Steve said...

Very cool to read....