I am a church buff, and I am drawn to God’s beauty. Matters relating to God and church fascinate me. People would be shocked by how unadventurous I am (e.g., I have never purchased booze for myself because it just does not interest me). I am, however, adventurous in my own way, constantly exploring meanings and ideas to satisfy my desire to connect with something greater than me.
So curious I am about things around God and church, I often expose myself to different traditions to find out how God’s Spirit moves in different places and how God’s people do church through specific theological lenses. As someone who believes in women preaching, I attended a fundamentalist church for six months. As a Protestant, I was with a Catholic Church for a full liturgical year. As a non-Black person, I worshiped in a Black church for eighteen months. The list goes on.
It may be difficult for some people to hold this tension when churches seem to be at odds on so many things that range from theology to politics, but I encountered God in the different churches that I visited. I experienced God’s majesty in the fundamentalist church through You Are God Alone (William McDowell) and God’s indescribable beauty in the Catholic Church through Glory to God (Dan Schutte). In the Black church, God’s presence was so palpable I was often moved to tears through such songs as Way Maker (Sinach), What If (Crystal Aikin), and God Is (James Cleveland).
And then I came across St. Matt’s.
I have never felt this way about any of the churches that I have visited, but I was aroused by ways in which St. Matt’s does church—so much so I can only stand in awe as I admire the beauty of God that is manifested through human beings.
While I have seen an ASL interpreter in a church that I visited, I have never visited one where Deaf siblings are fully included during church service. My heart jumped when I saw a lay Deaf sibling assist the pastor with communion for the first time at St. Matt’s. It was the most beautiful scene that I had seen in a long while, knowing that very few people are granted the opportunity to help with the task in most churches.
Being a church buff, I am not only interested in theology and liturgy but also how the church engages the world in general and the community in particular. Most churches that I have visited devote some resources to the unhoused, but I have never seen one like St. Matt’s that has gone so far as to open up the church space to serve the most vulnerable folks in the community.
Having been a follower of Christ for over two decades and having been involved in various aspects of church, I am well aware of the limitations in the body of Christ, for which I have great empathy. Church, after all, is where imperfect human beings congregate. My empathy for the church, however, has not stopped me from thinking critically about the how’s of doing church: What does the Scripture say about inequities and injustices? How are Christ followers called to respond to this broken world? How did Jesus model radical love?
Bound by resources, sensibilities, doubts, concerns, church politics, interpersonal conflicts, etc., most churches in this day and age play it safe. There is nothing wrong about wanting to play it safe – life is hard enough as it is, after all. At the same time, churches staying in their comfort zone is also what leaves me with a deep sense of dissatisfaction, knowing that there is more to the body of Christ.
Expecting more from the body of Christ is exactly why I was deeply aroused by what I witness at St. Matt’s. Opening up church space three days a week to feed those experiencing homelessness and provide services? Unhoused folks using the church’s address as they rebuild lives? Interacting with some homeless guests who are high during their visits? Dealing with constant littering around church property? A church in their right mind would of course say No, thank you to these job descriptions. What on earth was St. Matt’s thinking when they said Yes? Maybe that wacky mind is what Paul describes as foolish in 1 Corinthians 1. Maybe that wacky mind is the mind of Jesus, who also said Yes to the marginalized, the deserted, and the despised.
And that is why I continue to stand in awe as I admire the beauty of God—manifested through human beings—in this wacky place called St. Matt’s, a place where I can finally put my dissatisfaction to rest for a while.