Saturday, July 21, 2012

Did we just kick a homeless guy out of church?

                When you attend a small church of about 30 people, it’s easy to notice when someone new shows up. Once I sat down this past Sunday, Ryan leaned over and said, “I think there’s a drunk, homeless guy sitting in the front. He keeps saying ‘Amen’ after everything.”
                 We soon discovered the man (we’ll call him Roger) also had a comment for nearly everything.
                Levi began the service by asking the congregation, “What’s your most valuable possession?”
                “Women,” Roger stated. “I love ‘em.”
                “I’m sorry I’m wearing my hat. That’s wrong,” he added later.
                “Besides a person, what’s your most prized possession?” Levi clarified, again asking the whole church.
                “My most prized possession is Jesus Christ. I’m serious,” Roger responded. “Do you want me to start preaching now?”
                “No, I’ll take it from here,” Levi said, briefly taken aback.
                Levi quickly realized this was going to be a challenging service. “Let’s start with some prayer,” he suggested.
                Roger jumped right in.
                “Oh you’re going to pray? Ok,” Levi remarked, mildly amused.
                While Roger was funny at first, the joke (if you can call it that) soon grew stale. His constant comments were disruptive, so Levi asked him to settle down. When Roger’s behavior still hadn’t changed, Levi called him out a second time before trying to continue again.
                “I know more about the Bible than he does,” Roger muttered over Levi’s sermon.
                “Now this is getting personal,” Levi joked.
                After a few more minutes of no change, Levi tried a different approach.
                “Why don’t we stand and worship,” he said. Then, he and another man in the church, Seth, walked over to Roger and spoke with him. They led Roger out into the hall where Seth talked with Roger for the remainder of the service.  Levi resumed his place at the front and addressed us when the singing had ended.
                “Now you know what happens when you publicly declare you know more about the Bible than me,” he said with a smile. “But seriously, let’s pray for them out there. The last thing we want is for him to go home with a bad taste in his mouth about church. “
                Roger most likely wasn’t drunk. Instead, he probably suffered from some sort of mental ailment that so many Alaskans do. I wondered at first if it was the right thing to essentially kick someone out of a service, but that may not be the right question. I think you can honor God with the choice to let someone stay or with the choice to send them out. It depends on if you handle it with love. Levi did so by warning him during the service, speaking to him with respect, providing support for the remainder of the service, praying for him, and always keeping in mind that how he was treated here will permeate his entire view of church. I suppose we’ll see tomorrow if Roger decided to come back.