Katie Stock reports on a mysterious phenomenon
In this hard-hitting and emotional open letter, Amanda Smith recounts her lengthy battle to feel a part of her local church and ongoing desire for God to "make a way where there is no way"
I remember the first time I met you. I was no more than 8 years old and I simply adored you. I had a friend called Mary who I played with every week and along with my little sister and mother, it was a joy to go to church.
My, how things have changed.
I’m now in my 30s, single and in a predominantly white church. I don’t fit in anywhere; not with the married couples, the students, the young adults, the older generation or even the children! The extrovert in me attempts to befriend people, from honestly sharing with someone "I don’t have many friends here but I have some outside of church" to be met with the reply "well that’s ok then" as they quickly scuttle away.
I’m on the outskirts. There is no place for me here. Everybody wants to talk to those like them; from the students to the mothers to the young married couples. I again attempt to generate godly friendships but find the ‘elite’ looking over my shoulder for a ‘better option’ as they feign a fake interest in what I’m saying. It hurts. It hurts so much.
You see, I gave it all up for Jesus. I was a Sikh. I knew it wasn’t the truth and I gained a saviour who died for my sins but at the same time I lost much the world esteems. I lost the chance of a guaranteed marriage. I lost the community it brought. And I lost my father, who to this day practices Sikhism with his new family. When we followed Jesus we gave up everything but my mistake was thinking I would gain all that I had lost in the church.
My mother, once embraced by the small church we attended as youngsters, would find herself constantly rejected by the modern day church due to her mental health struggles. She was messy, too emotionally complicated to love, even I struggled at times until I took the time to understand her story; how she was refused an education, rejected and beaten by her family, sent to India, forced into a marriage and then spent the next 36 years of her life under the curse of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, trying to wash away the feelings of worthlessness she had come to wear as a badge of honour. No one took the time to hear her story.
I would have never said the church was potentially racist. I would have called you a heathen if you dared to speak such unthinkable things, but the more I try to locate the source of my rejection in church, I see very few other reasons why. I’m well presented, articulate, funny and have much to offer. I’m an extrovert so do most of the hard work in initiating conversations and friendships, yet truly no one wants to know. I find conversations cut dead short, attempts at socialising cleverly rebuffed, yet see the same people on social media stating how much they have loved getting to know someone new in church. It cuts like a dagger to the heart but I tell myself to try harder and eventually I will meet ‘my people’. Except it doesn’t happen and I realise there’s so much against me in my pursuit of finding my place in church; my age, relationship status and most devastating of all, my skin colour.
In my home town, a well known church began to welcome refugees to their church to the point almost half the church was made up of the refugee community. Then the church I attend opened up in the city and many flocked from that church to mine; a modern day Church of England congregation. I thought nothing of it until I noticed these same people wouldn’t speak to me, they would ignore me if I smiled or attempted conversation with them. Quite frankly they couldn’t get away fast enough.
This isn’t what I thought the church was.
I know many non-white people who are leaving the church, yet I stay. I force myself. I tell myself there is a place for me in God's house. I remain adamant, I will not let the enemy push me out.
I try team after team and home group after home group to try and get more connected but nothing, nada, none of these lead to real friendships forming. I constantly sit alone in church and try to tell myself I am independent and confident when in reality I would give anything to be married and not have to constantly feel so alone, single and ‘left on the shelf’.
Everyone tells you to either; do more in the proactive search for a partner, or deny yourself and tell God you are ok if he calls you to a life of singleness, even if you’re not. You tell everyone you’re happy being single but how can you be? You’re 36, your parents long for grandchildren and you wonder if God has forgotten you. You find yourself developing crushes on almost any fairly decent single Christian guy in the hope he will be the one to end the ‘curse’. He finds himself with more choice than he could have ever dreamed of in a potential partner and so decides to entertain all options, until he makes his decision...and it isn’t you. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and repeat the process all over again until there is nothing left of your heart to give away, only broken fragments of scar tissue from the catalogue of heartaches prior.
So what’s the answer? I’ll pray for God to make a way where there is no way. I’ll tell God I’m at the end of myself now and need him to move a mountain if he wants me to remain. I’ll fight with everything I have to stay in church if God commands, yet at the same time wonder if it’s meant to be this difficult. Maybe for some it isn’t but for me it has been, and why? Well, maybe it’s harder when there’s more at stake, when the enemy is fighting to keep the church in a manner that often unintentionally ostracises so many believers that don’t fit their mould.
Maybe a revolution is on the way, a church I dream of; a church for all creeds, for the broken, messed up and hurting. Not a church that merely talks about welcoming everyone, but a church that actually does it.
Amanda Smith is a freelance writer
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