Sunday, September 12, 2010

When a Church Gets It Right

Truth be told, sometimes churches get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong. When they get it right, it's an environment of genuine healing. When they get it wrong, it can be equally harmful.

In the opening of one of his books, Tony Compolo tells of a trip to Hawaii. When you travel from the east coast to Honolulu, your biological clock runs wild for a day or so, and the first night there, Tony was both hungry and awake at 3:00 a.m. He went off to find an open restaurant, but the only thing open was a greasy spoon diner run by a guy named Harry. So he sat down and ordered a donut.

As he was beginning to eat, a group of prostitutes entered the diner and sat at the counter, trapping Tony among them. One of the prostitutes mentioned to her friend that the next day was her birthday. Her friend said cynically, “Why are you telling me? Do you want a party and cake; is that what you want?” The first prostitute, named Agnes, said, “Why do you have to be so nasty? I was just telling you. No, I don't expect a cake and a party; I've never have had a birthday cake in my life!”

There was something about this woman that touched Tony. After they left, he asked Harry if these girls came in every night. When he found out that they did, Tony and Harry decided to give Agnes a party. Harry did the cake, Tony did the decorations and Harry's wife got the word out.

The next morning at 3:15 there were crepe-paper decorations, a huge birthday cake and about thirty prostitutes and street people in the diner. When Agnes walked in, everybody yelled “Surprise” and they sang happy birthday. Agnes almost collapsed, and she began to cry uncontrollably. She was at her very first birthday party, and the party was for her! She didn't even want to cut the cake; she took it back to her apartment so she could look at it for a couple of days.

After Agnes left to take her cake home, something just prompted Tony to say, “What do you say; let's have a prayer for Agnes.” It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. After the prayer, Harry said, “Hey, you didn't tell us you were a preacher. Why kind of church do you belong to anyway?” In one of those flashes of inspiration where you to say exactly the right thing at the right time, Tony answered, “I belong to a church that throws parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning!”

But it was Harry who told the punch line to this story; he said, “No you don't. There are no churches like that. If there was, I'd join. I’d want to be a part of a church like that!”

I think it's easy to focus on what the church gets wrong. To tell awkward stories. Carry around baggage and hurts. Bring up the book burnings.

But there are also moments of healing. Moments of giving. Moments of hope.

What are your moments? Do you have a story?