When I was young, just out of seminary, I served a church, as an associate pastor. I got to be a part of the Young adult group, so did Terri. Terri was a young woman with Tourettes syndrome. She had the kind where she had all kinds of tics and squeals she could not control, and also suffered from depression. It was distracting and unnerving to people who came. Terri had graduated high school recently and things had gotten worse without that structure. She had gained weight and had fewer people to have contact with, and therefore was more depressed.
Whenever we had an event, Terri would of course come, she was the first to sign up, ALWAYS. We would go out to dinners, go out to a ball game, and all kinds of fun. And always, Terri was the FIRST to sign up, it didn’t matter what, always. And, at an event, it was inevitable that someone got cornered by Terri, who would talk about being depressed, suicidal, etc. Not your typical young adult group conversations, but she just could not control latching on to someone, anyone at these events. One night, we had a game night in the church parlor, and you guessed it, Terri cornered someone.
After that game night, I was the one who got cornered, but it wasn’t Terri, but by sisters Suzy and Sophie, picture perfect suburbanites. “Pastor Cheri, we really like this church” but we can’t invite friends to this group because of Terri. We come to this group to have fun. On Friday night, after a long week of work, we come to have fun, not be cornered by Terri. They had basically had it with Terri being there. In the most, kind, pastoral way I could, I gently tried to explain to them: Terri needs church. And we don’t kick people out of groups at church.
At home that night I got pretty self righteous. “What Would Jesus Do” was popular then and I so wanted to ask them if they thought Jesus would kick out Terri. Suzy and Sophie have plenty of friends. It’s not fair of them to act this way toward Terri. If I have to sacrifice them in order to provide a place for Terri, then so be it. They will find another group, but Terri does not have lots of options.
I went to my friends Freda and Fred with a strategy. They were in my Disciple Bible study class (a 9 month long intense bible study created by the Methodist church adds Kurt and it and Servant Leadership are incredible). I asked them if they could help with Terri. We got to together and met and came up with a strategy. We would take turns with Terri and her Tourettes syndrome. We would let someone have ten minutes of Terri and then step in. We all need to be Jesus for each other, including Terri.
The next outing, was, of course, an all day outing to the local amusement park. All day is a lot of ten minute blocks. When we got to the park, immediately Terri was excited. They had a shop where you could make a karaoke CD was all she kept saying. We went to the shop, and she got to pick her song and sing it. She was beaming! She got to record her not great rendition of the song and create the cover. It was a great day for her and an okay day for me and my friends, Freda and Fred.
I did not see so much of Suzy and Sophie in the group after that. Looking back, I do have one regret. Looking back, I did not sit down with Suzy and Sophie and talk with them about Terri more. We could have tried a little harder to keep them in the group. I let them off the hook too easily. I did not ask them to find their common humanity with Terri.
You see, the things that made Terri hard to be around were obvious. She had some obvious tics and squeals that set her apart. She was over-weight and depressed. She didn’t know what was appropriate and not appropriate to talk about. We worked on that in her private sessions in my office.
But we ALL have things about ourselves that set us apart, and make us feel unlovable. The rest of us, just hide our things better than Terri did. I’m willing to bet that at some point in life Suzy and Sophie had their share of insecurities. Who knows, after all these years, they may have had a child with some severe disabilities. I’m pretty sure they have faced some hardships in life. I just wonder, if I had tried a little harder, I might have found a way to be more patient and tolerant with Terri. It could have been a gift for them to see their common humanity.
You know, one of the things I value here at The Village, is that we hang in there with one another. We know we are not perfect. Some of our imperfections are more obvious than others. But we know that we all have our ups and downs. And so we work really hard to welcome all the folks: the Terris with Tourettes and the Suzys and Sophies who are uncomfortable with the Terris; and we welcome the Fredas and the Freds too. We really try to welcome everyone. There are people missing here even.
Now, let’s go back to that crazy scripture, for those following along on the net, it’s Acts 11:1-18 from the Message:
when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
The Jews were like Suzy and Sophie. They just wanted the Jews in their young adult group. The Gentiles were people with Tourette Syndrome, or try immigrants or those against immigration, people who carry guns or people who want to limit our ability to carry guns, vegetarians or people who eat meat, people who buy foreign cars or people who only buy American cars even though they are gas guzzlers, people who go to casinos and gamble or people who are opposed to going to the casinos. Those who are missing. You get the idea.
But here, we want to include everyone. Because everyone needs God. Everybody, no exceptions. Because if God can love the likes of us, then God can love everyone. So, here is what I want to you to think about. Who do you know who is missing from The Village, who needs God’s love? Whoever they are, they will add diversity to our community. They will add something unique to our community. There are no exceptions to who God wants to include in the circle or who we want to include in the circle.
And I want you to do two things? First, pray for that person. The second one is much harder, ask them to come with you to The Village. Offer to pick them up if needed. If you can afford it, offer to take them to lunch or out to coffee.
You don’t have to be annoying, just be consistent. Tell the person that you care about them. That you just want them to give it a try. If they won’t come here then you want hope they will go somewhere. God loves them, and you want them to give God a chance to show them how much God loves them, by being part of one of God’s communities.
For example I know a family with kids that have been thinking about coming for a year. But they just don’t do it. I am going to call them again and ask them what is going on. I’m going to try inviting them for Mother’s Day.
What do you have to lose by inviting someone? It won’t cost you anything, so I’m giving you a money back guarantee. Give it a try, will you?