As much as I like to joke about the churches in my area labeling me a “sinner” and refusing to marry me because The Man and I have been living, well, in sin – It’s mostly a cover-up.
“Ooh, those Baptists!” I say as we drive by. “Too good to let sinners like us in their church!”
I stick my tongue out at the beautiful Swedish Lutheran church on the lake between my mom’s and my house. Because they never even bothered to answer me when I inquired about their “strongly request” statement.
And I do it all with a smile on my face. “Haha, just kidding!” I say.
But really – I’m not kidding. I’m angry with them. I’m angry that they took it upon themselves to judge me – not knowing a damn thing about me, except that I live with my fiancé. I’m angry that they made me feel like I was less of a person because of the life I’ve chosen.
I want to ask them, “What would make a better Christian? Someone who took on two children to raise as her own – with no legal binds, no monetary supplement, no promise of any future. Or someone who passed up that opportunity because doing so would require that I live with them and that just doesn’t fit what you call ‘God’s Plan.’”
I have fought the urge to call them up and ask just why they still felt that be so necessary. Why they feel the need to make ME feel like I am just trash.
I had the opportunity to say something Wednesday. See, someone from the office of the Swedish Lutheran church responded to my membership inquiry asking if someone had gotten back to me yet.
Some of you know that my tongue can be awfully sharp. I don’t always think about things before I say – or type (and send) – them.
I wrote what I felt and then edited it to make it a little more appropriate. I was polite and expressed my thanks for getting back to me.
But I left in one line that was not friendly, but also not spiteful like I tend to be – It was just honest.
I have started driving to my old church in _____ and plan to have the wedding there now. Location means nothing when acceptance is the real issue.
That was immediately returned with a rush of apologies.
I'm so sorry that you didn't receive a response to that inquiry. I have not heard that this church has a policy regarding living together before marriage, and doubt that would be an issue regarding your upcoming marriage. We (the church) are in the midst of a search for a pastor (Pastor M is our interim pastor) and expected to call a new pastor in October. Pastor M may have assumed he would not be the pastor who would be here when you plan to marry. I sincerely hope you will attend a service here. The members of this church are friendly and caring. Pastor M is a wonderful minister. Please let me know if I can help you in any way. And thanks for the quick response! Since I have your address, I will send you our October newsletter.
That was nice. It was nice that she reached out to me. It doesn’t give me back the night I spent crying in bed feeling like trash because yet another church deemed me ‘inappropriate.’ And it’s too late to change my plans now. But still, it helped me feel better.
Then, shortly after, I got an email from Pastor M. titled, “sorry for the misscommunication![sic]” Among his apologies for the “lost” email and an explanation of his interim duties was something that angered me again:
The only policies Spring Lake have concerning marriages are in the info I sent you. There is no policy concerning couples living together.
Because I am neurotic and save EVERYTHING, allow me to pull the fourth paragraph out of the file he is talking about…the one called “Wedding Policies:”
Our congregation prays that you will be happily married "as long as you both shall live." We hope that you treat each other as gifts from God. We also hope that you will hold off in some things until your marriage date. Our congregation strongly requests that couples refrain from living together and from fully expressing their God‑given gift of sexuality until that time. It is worth the wait!
Since he IS the interim Pastor, there is a good possibility that he didn’t write the policies. There is a good chance he’s never even really read them. And there is an even better chance that he never saw the email in the first place. I appreciate and accept the apologies. I will let it go and might even stop in for a service.
But I learned something through this misunderstanding. See, when the Baptists wouldn’t marry us, I wasn’t that upset (not until it became a pattern, anyway). The Man had told me they were a pretty strict bunch. But I was raised Lutheran and had never in my life been harshly judged by one. They not only left me feeling like trash for the decisions I’ve made – they left me questioning where I even belong as a Christian.
I once again found myself in the embrace of the United Church of Christ. The church that was there for my single mom when she needed them. Who provided an apartment for our family while they had people working on our house. The church that provided - with no fees - the pastor who baptized my daughter and then the sanctuary in which we held her funeral.
Even though the Lutherans weren’t being as judgemental as I had thought, I never even had to question it with the UCC church. It never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be welcome there.
It was kind of like home to me.