I’ve always been told that I’m a great “helper”. Serving others has always been a big thing for me. If I can provide aid or assistance to anyone who needs it, I don’t think twice about it. I just do it. It doesn’t annoy me, irritate me, or bother me in the least. Honestly, when someone asks me for help, I’m secretly thrilled to bits to be able to pitch in. That’s just always how I’ve been. I love offering help and extending help. I don’t even care if anyone thanks me for it. There’s no better feeling than being able to lend a helping hand.
Because helping others has always come naturally to me, it’s long been my heart’s desire to serve in the church – in any capacity. I remember informing my mother at the age of 8 or 9 that I wanted to be a missionary when I grew up because I wanted to “help people” and teach them about God. When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher read the story “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney to the class. It instantly became a life-long favorite. The story is that of young Alice who is informed that all her dreams for the future are well and good, but she must do something to make the world a more beautiful place. Ever since I was 8, that message has stuck with me. I must do something to make the world a more beautiful place. What better way to make the world more beautiful than to bring the beauty and truth of God to others?
But being able to do that has been a struggle. In nearly every church I’ve been associated with, I’ve looked for ways in which to serve – ways in which to use my gifts and talents to glorify and honor God. And in nearly every church, I’ve been greeted with blank stares, excuses, and conciliatory smiles. My desire to serve was all well and good, but…
- I was new.
- I was young.
- I was inexperienced.
- Other people were more qualified.
- Other people were pastor’s kids so they clearly possessed some magical trait I did not.
- Help wasn’t needed.
- Help was needed but the existing helpers were hugely territorial and suspicious of newcomers.
- My parents hadn’t helped found the church, had never served as elders in the church, and had never contributed large sums of money to the church so… no one in the church knew who I was and no one wanted my help.
- I was from out of town.
- My hair was too short, my nose was too big, and my nail polish didn’t match my outfit.
You name it. There was always a reason why I couldn’t serve.
Door after door after door – slammed shut. “Thanks, but no thanks. Please continue to visit us on the weekends.”
I used to cry over this. I used to beg God to open doors so I could serve. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just… help.
And then, one magical day, the mega church I was attending accepted my application to help out with “Children’s Church” (The fact that they have a separate church service just for kids is the most ridiculous idea on the planet, but that’s another discussion for another time…). And after a background check, an interview, and three letters of reference, they let me in.
And I loathed Every. Single. Second.
No one knew who I was. No one could remember my name. I had a new batch of kids at every service despite serving at the exact same time every weekend. It was impossible to develop any sort of relationship with anyone… because you were just a cog in the massive church machine. And if you weren’t serving, someone else could easily take your place. (One of the perks of attending a church with thousands of other people.) They convince you you’re making a difference even though you’re convinced you’re not making a difference. Besides, differences are made through relationships with other people. No relationships, not much of a difference.
I burnt out pretty quickly and was left wondering, “Well, that was a bust. What now? Should I just not serve… ever?”
Fast forward five years and I find myself working at a charming little parochial school and attending a quaint little parish. Keep in mind the following:
- I’m new.
- I’m still relatively young.
- I’m still relatively inexperienced.
- There are plenty of others more qualified than I.
- My parents don’t even attend the church so there’s no name recognition.
- Only a few people know who I am.
- I’m from out of town.
- My nail polish often still doesn’t match
And… and this is the big one…
- I’M NOT EVEN CATHOLIC.
And quite literally…
Door after door after door… opened.
“You want to help out with something? Jump in! You want to take on a new project for the school? Do it! You want to attend a seminar, join a group, establish something for the kids? Okay!”
I’m sorry, but in my experience, this is not normal. And I apologize profusely if it seems I’m pigeon-holing all Protestant churches. I’m not. It’s just that… I’ve never been allowed to serve in a church or use my gifts and talents in a church until now. And I’m not even a member of said church. Yet, I’ve been welcomed with open arms – as have my ideas, gifts and fraternity. I genuinely don’t understand it. Why do I feel more welcome here than I have in churches I’ve grown up in, been affiliated with, and served in? Doesn’t that speak volumes about a church?
Maybe it’s just this particular Catholic church that has this openness. But if that’s the case, then they’re onto something big here. And they need to bottle it up and sell it by the caseload. Because they’re growing on me something awful.