All I wanted was that moment with Jesus. To stand before him in awe.
But I soon realized that I was not welcome in this church.
I desperately wanted silence. As I made my way up to the altar, I could hear her muttering and shuffling behind me. When I looked up, Jesus was there, but it wasn't the moment I had been waiting for.
The awe I felt for the face of the Lord was diminished by the mistrustful gaze of another pair of eyes behind me.
I quickly left the church, sad and shaken.
I know I'm not alone. If you are a minority—racially, religiously, sexually—you probably know what I'm talking about. You know what it feels like to have to convince the church that you're not trespassing. That you belong there. That all you wanted, perhaps, was to see Jesus.
I am so sorry that anyone has ever stopped you.
On behalf of the church, I would like to apologize to anyone who has felt unwelcome. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that. And though I could go on apologizing for a long time, let me tell you one thing: the people who made you feel that way are afraid. They're afraid that someone or something is going to ruin how they think church should be. They're afraid of change. They're afraid of being wrong.
I know the woman who followed us was scared. Since the war, many Serbian churches have been burned to the ground by those hurt in the name of God. I think perhaps what was bothering her so much was that our hands were behind our backs, a typical Albanian gesture. I think it triggered something in her. And though the American church has a very different past, I think the fear is the same. It's easier to be afraid of the outsider than admit you're doing something wrong.
The apostle John writes, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...The one who fears is not made perfect in love." In the same chapter, he blatantly states that if we cannot love one another, we don't truly love God. Ouch, huh? If we don't love you—which is obvious by our fear of you—we can't even claim that we love God.
So please, be the courageous person you are and challenge us again and again, until we get it right. And until we do, I pray that you will look past the fearful faces and see the One who has nothing but love for you.
May He cast out all of our fears.