May 30, 2018

I stood in front of the grill judging the consistency of charred goods this past Sunday, much like many of you. As the summer sun beamed warm rays over my winter skin, I took a deep breath and an equally deep draught of a refreshing beverage, enjoying the company of old friends—and some new ones—standing near me. Then the inevitable, yet not unexpected question of, “Wait a minute…you’re a REAL priest?”, came from one of the new folks I’d just met. Laughingly, one of my dearest friends (who is not the sum of the title “atheist”, but for this story, that’s his designation) chuckled quietly, awaiting the response. “Yes, I am. I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. We love Jesus, coffee, naps, and a beer or two on the weekends.” The new person, who shall be called Jane from heretofore, then made the same comment that many folks in her generation have locked away in their presupposition safe, “But, you’re drinking. And you went to a brewery with us. And you don’t LOOK like a priest.” At this point, our mutual friend starting laughing openly and said, “He’s really a priest. And I’m an atheist. Add that to the list.”
Baffled, Jane began listing her experiences in the church as a youth, citing that she’d never met, and I quote, “A pastor (I thought to correct her, but is she wrong?) being a ‘real’ person.” She went on to lament her experiences in her childhood denomination, noting the many rules and regulations set forth that would keep her from going back to church.
After a while, the conversation changed to something inane and the day went on, but her remarks stuck with me. More and more these days, I’m aware of the deep hurt inflicted by pastors, ministers, and Christians in general, on our young people. It seems as though that some of our counterparts in the Body of Christ explain God much like a boogeyman who will come get them if they say a foul word or commit an offense. 
I can’t speak all the folks in the world who’ve experienced this type of negative theology, but the conversation with Jane helped (at least that’s what she told me) her understand that there are faith people out there who just want to love their neighbor and love God to the best of their abilities. Do you have friends like Jane? Do you know people who have a misconception of Christianity as it should be, rather than that which was taught as a ghost story?
Church has become a five-letter word in a four-letter-using-world. People have forgotten that it exists and there's no room for it in conversation. People are shying away from our community because they don’t know that they won’t be judged; and that they’re safe being who they are within these hallowed walls. Now more than ever, our task is to reclaim and then proclaim the name of Jesus Christ for the good of the world. It’s time to take the trepidation out of the equation when speaking to our friends—old and new—in everyday conversations.

Notice that I didn’t bring up the fact that I was a priest to Jane, she found that out because someone asked me how church was that morning (again, my atheist friend). But once she did, I didn’t say, “Oh, yeah, I am but I don’t talk about stuff like that when I’m not at church.” Instead, I engaged gently and answered questions without uttering—or screaming—HAVE YOU BEEN SAVED BY JESUS!? It really is a simple thing, to speak about faith in a way that is natural to you. We don’t have to know every word in the Bible. You don’t need to go to seminary. All we need to do is allow the Spirit to be present in every conversation so that those who might be seeking a deeper or different understanding will hear the comforting words and good news of Jesus Christ. And then maybe we’ll start seeing some new faces among us. Also, not EVERY conversation needs to be centered on Jesus Christ—our relationships are based on knowing quite a few things about one another. But don’t forget that your faith is the chief component of your being; loving God comes first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a refreshing drink in the sun and talk about your faith at the same time. Let’s reclaim the name that saved us, proclaim the faith that sustains us, and exclaim the love—in a real and genuine way—that we receive from being part of God’s community.

Fr. Sean+