When I was in college, I went on this AWESOME mission trip to New York. But according to my church, this mission trip never happened. I’m not sure why… I have a few ideas though. Let me tell you about it.
*note: this happened in 2013, so this is how I remember it 4 years on. Time has naturally distorted certain things.
To start off with, this was 2013. That year, in my evangelical congregation, was the year that things officially started to fall apart. Not ‘behind-the-scenes’ falling apart, proper public falling apart.
Our youth pastor–a close friend and mentor to me–had been outed and dismissed after having an affair with a married church elder. No one saw it coming, and I was a wreck. I was one of the closest people to her; we weren’t far apart in age and she had been my confidant in high school and beyond. She shaped me into the person I had become. It was a bad time.
That instance was just the beginning of years of discord within the congregation. But lets stay at 2013.
In the midst of this falling apart, the church had booked a rather last-minute mission trip to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. It was an adult mission trip, so a ragtag group of volunteers were recruited (some, like me, a week before the trip) to trek north for a long weekend in the city. Very little planning, because we could all fend for ourselves.
Our youth pastor was supposed to go with us, and as we loaded into one of two vans to travel north, I could already feel a void in the group dynamics. Of the group, only 5 of us were women, vastly outnumbered by the men. It was understandable; our task was to help rehabilitate homes that had been devastated by hurricane Sandy. Typically, women did not sign up for construction missions. I’ll save the bigger rant for another post, but I’m NOT good with children. If there’s a construction trip, sign me the hell up!
The group was a colorful group. Not many of us were super close. There were a few relatives and coworkers on the men’s side that shared ownership of a local construction group. The women were… different. Two of us were college-age girls, both attending secular colleges, both of us branching out of our strict upbringing. One girl had just graduated bible college but was (no better way to describe it) non-conforming. One woman had an atheist husband, and the other came from a harsh background.
None of us women would shut up. We were the ones who “caused problems” in church. I was a harlot. My friend was ‘abnormal’. The two older women were outspoken and liked to crash the boys’ club. To be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had with a group of women all together.
The mission work itself was intense. It had very little to do with telling people about Jesus, which is perhaps why my church doesn’t really talk about this trip. What did we accomplish anyway?
I think we accomplished a ‘show, don’t speak’ demonstration of the gospel. Here was random group of people, working their asses off for no pay, in a hot, damp basement, accomplishing so much in record time.
By the end of the weekend, we had installed wall frames, drywall and drop ceilings, and bathroom fixtures for an elderly lady who lost her basement in the hurricane. The basement was a source of income for her, and since the hurricane, it was unable to be sublet.
I had a blast. I learned how to install drywall and remove floor tiles. I bonded with my group members as we all did things well beyond our comfort zones.
That weekend we were also invited to attend Resurrection Brooklyn’s Sheepshead bay church plant. The church was evangelical, just like ours, but incredibly different. They had a more liturgical church service, and we read many more creeds than we were used to. We were also served communion with real wine (the horror) and listened to a contemporary band (again, the horror).
One of the neat things I learned about this church was that the band was made up of professional musicians. (they paid them too! Imagine!) The musicians were hired on the basis of them being reliable, talented band members, and oddly, faith was not a factor. Yes, there were non-Christians in the worship band.
Again, the horror. This was the first eye-opener I had into the more liberal side of Christianity. My church would never let anyone lead worship who wasn’t a Christian (or didn’t appear to be a Christian). But here these musicians were. Christian or not, they were in church, witnessing the service every Sunday. It’s that a cool witness? The pastor and elders along on the trip didn’t necessarily agree.
Speaking of communion wine… after the work leg of our trip came to a close, we were invited to a party at the home of one of the church leaders. He was a young man, with a lovely wife and child, and a fantastic Brooklyn city home with a backyard and everything. The house was incredible, and the church members gathered were warm and wonderfully welcoming.
This party was the most ridiculous church party I have ever been to. First of all, they overnighted crawfish (crawdads I call them, my mom is from the south) from Louisiana specifically to have this BBQ in the backyard. They cooked up corn, potatoes and crawdads and we had a regular feast.
AND THEY SERVED US BEER. BEER. At a CHURCH FUNCTION. I know right??? We were all over 21, so there was no harm in having a few beers, as we were offered. The church leaders became visibly uncomfortable. I was thrilled.
We did take photos of the event, however, none of them saw the light of day because there was alcohol in them. Yes, lets all pretend we don’t drink. We’re all perfect angels.
After my church goes on a mission trip, there’s always a member of the trip selected to share about the trip during the service. Not so much to brag about what was accomplished, but to keep our church family in the loop. After all, I felt I grew closer to members of my church family while on the trip.
My parents and I kept waiting for someone to talk about it during the service. Weeks went by and no one did. No pictures of the trip were posted on the website or hung up in the hallways. Nothing was put in the bulletin. It was as if the leadership wanted to forget that the trip ever happened.
Was it the fact that we traveled to Brooklyn, of all places, instead of a place more destitute? Brooklyn isn’t Haiti. Was it the fact that the evangelical church we worshiped at was not what was expected? Was it the alcohol? Was it the members of the trip themselves? Us misfits and outcasts?
A year later, my friend would become non-conforming to the fullest, coming out to her family as gay and leaving the church. I would be accused of aiding the affair between my former youth pastor and the church elder. The older woman with the atheist husband would be asked to step down from leadership roles for “not being a team player” or some bullshit that smelled suspiciously like misogyny.
We were a band of misfits entering a different world. Was it too scary for our congregation? Too uncomfortable for them to hear?
Was it more comfortable to pretend that the work of God wasn’t done? That His kingdom was not advanced?
Was it more comfortable to accept a lie than to admit that our band of sinners was able to help those in need?