So how did that 12-year old, who rejected the minister (or was rejected by him), and rejected Christianity, become a minister herself? Well, I never stopped being a seeking person, searching to know God and have a faith and religion and spirituality that could make sense to me, sometimes searching more actively than at other times. I believed in God, I just didn’t believe in Christianity as I understood it at the time.
I tried all kinds of things, and eventually went to Harvard Divinity School to study comparative world religions. I really wanted to understand religion. I studied Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, with a little Islam thrown in.
I got a Masters of Theological Studies there. It was great. Fascinating. Stimulating. But it wasn’t an experience of faith. It was an experience of the Head. Which we would expect from Harvard. And that’s good, for Harvard. But my deepest questions would only be answered with an experience of the Heart.
And then one day, as it turns out, a friend of mine who was preparing to be a Presbyterian minister, invited me to his internship church. I was nervous. I was hesitant. He said it would be a small gathering, evening prayers during Lent, and communion would be shared.
I told him, “I don’t think I would be invited to that.”
He looked at me and said with all sincerity, “I’m inviting you.”
When he said that, something broke open in me, just a little bit. I would be welcome because someone I trusted and respected would be welcoming me. I was invited. I agreed to attend.
And what happened next is hard to describe. Some of you will already understand. The Holy Spirit’s work is bigger than any words we can use to describe it. It’s not so much our work that reaps the greatest benefits, but the work of God that effects great transformation in our lives.
Sitting in the front of the church sanctuary, in the dim evening light of Lent, scripture was read, prayers were said, a short reflection was given by a church member, and I felt a little awkward, a little out of place. A little bit like a foreign language was being spoken in my presence.
And then we stood in a small circle for communion. My friend and I, maybe five other people, and the pastor, with an informal, personal and personable demeanor. He brought the bread round to each of us, addressing us by name. “Nanette, the body of Christ, given for you.”
A subtle but intense struggle was happening within me. This offering of bread was challenging a deeply ingrained sense that I was not loved, and that I was not welcome in the church. In contradiction to that feeling, it felt as through Jesus himself was saying my name in the form of the bread.”This bread is for you, Nanette. You are welcome at my Table.”
And something broke open in me, a little bit more. I was welcome at this Table, at this meal, because Jesus himself was welcoming me. I was invited.
It was like a long line of standing Dominoes was touched off by my receiving and eating that piece of bread. The dominoes were all my beliefs about what Christianity was (not accepting) and what kind of people Christians were (not welcoming), and what kind of God the Christian God was (not kind), and most especially what kind of person I was in the eyes of Jesus, and of God (not good, not precious, not loved).
The dominoes began to fall, one knocking down the next one. I started to see things in a new way.
I found that I was not rejected because of that sinful nature I had heard so much about in church as a child. I was, in fact, accepted. I was, in fact, precious to God, and Jesus wanted to feed me. All I had to do was take the bread and stop running away.
But I knew in my heart of hearts that Jesus welcomes strangers at his Table. And after time, I wasn’t a stranger any more. I began to get involved with the church. I began to help with the children and help with the food. Then I began to serve on committees and help with worship.
I wasn’t a stranger anymore. I became part of the body of people, the body of the church, which we can understand to be the very body of Christ.
I came to be a Christian not because I “did the work” of believing, but because I allowed myself to be welcomed and loved and supported by a community of Christians.
I believe that God nourished me through them, and this is the work of God that Jesus does, to be the Bread of Life which satisfies our deepest hungers and quenches our deepest thirsts.
The work of God that we must do is not to work on believing, but to allow ourselves to be nourished, and to nourish each other.
Read Part 3: Re-Presenting Christianity