Church is Gross

Today, I'm delighted to share this guest post from Kevin Makins author of the new book Why Would Anyone Go to Church?:

"Church is Gross" by Kevin Makins

Like many of you I am a part of a local congregation which can no longer meet in person. When the COVID reality first impacted our services I assumed it would be a few months before we were all gathered together again, breaking bread and bouncing babies.

But I was an idiot.

Nearly six months later we are still logging onto Youtube and the occasional zoom gathering. Sometimes we meet outside in groups of less than ten, socially distanced at the park while off-collar dogs interrupt the prayers of the people.

As a pastor in our community I’ve spent a good chunk of my summer reflecting on how we can re-gather safety this fall. Our church board has poured over the government’s safety rules and recommendations, and it’s lead me to a conclusion:

Church is gross.

Revisit it in your mind: People from all over town meeting in a small room to sing their spittle into the air. Children running up and down aisles, hugging the elderly and leaving snot on their finest Sunday dress. We literally have a part of the service where everyone shakes hands and passes around their germs (the person with the mic cheers them on: “Make sure to greet everyone!”)

Introverts rejoice: Pass the Peace is dead for a while.

Perhaps there is no moment less sanitary than communion. In our church this looks like congregants of all ages and backgrounds, as well as the occasional stranger from off the street, bumping shoulders as they move toward a single loaf of bread. Each person rips off a piece before passing it down the line. Over a hundred saints dip chunks of bread (and the occasional finger tip) into a common bowl of juice. The last to arrive will be greeted by a purple stained table and a common cup filled with floaties.

In a COVID world this might as well be a slasher film.

Singing and hugs, communion and laying on hands: All of my favourite parts of church are disgusting.

Anyone else feel this way? Since you’re reading this on Richard Beck’s blog, I assume the idea of church being “unclean” also appeals to you. And if that’s the case we have a new question:

“What do we do with this revelation?”

There is a human desire to respond in one of two ways.

The first is just to be nasty anyways: Fill the sanctuary Sunday morning. Ignore health regulations and rules. Abuse our freedom in Christ to put our most vulnerable at risk and participate in spreading a virus which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. This, to me, is not a Christian option.

On the other hand, we can do what some churches have been doing for decades: Spin it into a positive: Come on back to church everyone! Sad about what we’ve lost? Don’t worry about it. We’ve still got a rockin’ band (please don’t sing along), you can greet one another with the peace of Christ (six feet apart please), and don’t forget about communion (you’ll find the pre-sealed container under your seat).

This sort of hype machine might successfully trick people into acting positive, but it utterly fails to represent reality in an honest way.

Perhaps the only faithful way forward is to do something the church hasn’t always been great at: Confess our disappointment.

Whether we are gathering responsibly in a building, in smaller backyard groups, or online in zoom calls, it is possible to say “I wish it didn’t have to be like this” and “I miss how our gatherings used to feel” while still being grateful for the expression we do have.

It may be uncomfortable for us brittle North Americans, but these wilderness seasons are a part of our Christian tradition. What we can’t lose is our memory. “Remember” is an often repeated command in the Old Testament. Our temporary reality will not last forever, and so we have to remember what things used to be like, how beautiful, embodied, and disgusting church was, and one day will be again.

I guess at this point I should say that Richard invited me to write a blog post to promote my recently released first book: “Why Would Anyone Go to Church?” It tells the story of a young community trying to reclaim church for good, despite all the valid reasons one could walk away.

There is a certain irony in releasing a book about going to church during the only time in human history when literally no one is allowed to go to church. But it’s had an unexpected effect: I receive emails every week from people who, after reading it, tell me the stories in the book help them time travel back to a world of potlucks and small talk over mediocre coffee.

It helps them remember why church mattered, and why she still matters.

If you, like me, need some help remembering these days, perhaps it can be a companion to you as well. I pray the Spirit uses it to help you through this wilderness season, and even helps you laugh a bit.

Laughter is cathartic. And sort of gross.

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