Our church held vacation bible school this past week, a huge production five evenings that included a meal beforehand for all families with children attending and the volunteers. Somehow I found myself on the committee to plan and prepare the food. This prompt came from Janet, I believe, can’t be certain. I was also her assistant, the first she has had in 10 years, in the supplies department. It all sounded rather fishy to me but I agreed with reservations. The scars of a long ago VBS were flaring, pulsing.
Many years ago, at a different church, I was asked to help direct the VBS. I agreed, found volunteers to run everything, kept my involvement completely administrative. The excitement and joy built as we headed to the beginning, only for my phone to ring early one morning, the pastor on the line, saying VBS had been cancelled for the year. Someone had complained the I, with my past, with my label, was involved. The solution of the pastor, who knew my history, knew me, was to give in. Allow the other voices to win out, to say the reputation of the church was more important than continuing VBS as planned. With no discussion, nothing. Done. Humiliation, betrayal, abandonment by the very place one seeks acceptance. The hurt pushed me away from the church, away away away.
As this new season of VBS was approaching, supplies purchased and organized, the meal planning underway, my thoughts kept straying to that other church. My heart grew heavy, knowing I couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t lose this church. I had to find a way out and every day I got pulled in deeper. The meals were simple but my partner didn’t seem to understand I wasn’t planning to be there for the execution. Finally, the pressure was too much and I sought out the director of children’s ministries and the pastor. He was gone, she was there. I told her my plan to be gone by 5 each day, that I wasn’t trying to get by with anything, that I needed her to know I didn’t want to put the church in a bad position. She let me talk and then said, I already know. Our church is one of inclusion, of second chances. I know what your role is, I am comfortable with this. But what if someone complains, I asked. I can’t lose this. I can’t lose this family. Her assurance that she was able to support me as well as the church, that I was worthy of inclusion, healed my old hurts. She agreed to talk with the pastor to be sure he felt the same, to understand the risks. A later email told me he did.
During this week of VBS, our family suffered a major blow, a loss so unexpected that we still haven’t fully taken it in. We have much grieving ahead. Yet every night we had to show up, make food, eat amongst friends. We listened to children singing songs of faith, dancing up joy to God. Their sweet voices ministered with clarity, simple words that spoke messages we were meant to hear. “I have decided to follow Jesus.” “He is the light that breaks through the darkness, follow Him, follow Him, Light it up”
Our church held VBS this week. A huge production that included me. Old wounds healed, new erupted. Life happens and it hurts sometimes, to the core. I am so very blessed though to have it happening in my church, surrounded by believers who practice grace. They remind me there is a way out of the darkness, to keep coming back. There is room for us here. In the midst of shock and pain, God planted our feet firmly in the ground of his loving church. We are blessed, still.