Parker Bullard

Editor’s note: This column originally ran April 8, 2011.

When you read the word “church,” what images come to mind? Let me venture a guess in the form of a portrait:

There is a dimly lit auditorium with soft, ominous music coming from an organ. Parishioners are wearing suits and dresses, and certainly no warm, vibrant colors – that would distract people and lead them to sin.

At the door, someone at least 10 years older than you jams a program in your hand so you’ll know when it’s over.

You sit on a dingy wooden pew or on one with padded seats if you’re lucky. When the service gets underway, the countdown is on – the sooner you can get out, the better.

Songs about terrestrial balls and Ebenezers fill the air, but the tune is unfamiliar, and you don’t know whether or not you should sing along anyway.

Then the priest or the reverend or the preacher or the pastor – what is he called? – gets up and tells you to open the Bible to Habbakuk 3. Is that toward the front or the back?

Maybe you find it, but even if you do, it doesn’t matter. The message is pretty clear anyway: If you don’t repent from your sinful ways, stop having fun, grow a beard and give your hard-earned money to the church, then you’re going to hell.

As soon as it’s over, you race for the parking lot. On the way home, you think, “And people go back there on purpose?”

Perhaps I exaggerated, but for many of you, I know I didn’t. If that’s your perception of church, you aren’t alone. For a long time, that was my perception of church – and my father was the preacher!

We think of church as being an unfriendly, unfamiliar place with secret rules and handshakes that exists only to tell us that we need to be more like them or we’ll be punished forever.

We don’t want to give it a try because we’ll probably be judged or ignored. We say, “I’m just not a church person; I never really have been.”

Sure, if you think church is anything like the portrait above, then it’s no wonder you’ve never been a church person. But what if your perception doesn’t match the reality? Would you care? Would it be worth trying?

Suppose church was bright and colorful, filled with friendly people who want to know you – the real you. Suppose you couldn’t get out the doors without someone giving you a hug, or at least a warm handshake. Suppose the preaching was practical and useful, even if you don’t buy into the whole church thing.

What if the church was somewhere that lives were transformed into a better version of the ones they were before?

That doesn’t mean the handyman mountain-biker becomes a tie-wearing, door-knocking pushover. It means he learns how to let go of his anger and his grief. It means he becomes a handyman who lives for more than just paying bills and riding bikes.

What if church was somewhere that marriages were repaired? What if it offered hope to the depressed? Or friends to the lonely? Or peace to the angry?

What if church was actually useful for something? Would you try it?

You may have already made up your mind that you are not a church person. Give it a shot. I think you’ll be surprised.

The Rev. Parker Bullard formerly was senior minister at Poncha Springs Church of Christ.

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