My dad is a great guy. He has overcome so much and he would be the first to tell you that the sole reason for any success in his life is because of his relationship with Jesus.My dad is an elder and teacher in the church he attends. This is a story he shared with his congregation this past Sunday. I think it contains a lot of the things people feel when they look at Christianity or church.
For my sermon , I told this little story. I thought you may like to read it, so I wrote it down, and added a few things. The writing style needs work, I think.
The Red Velvet RopeMy first impressions of church were formed when I was a very small boy. Farringdon Independent Church was in my backyard- or so it seemed to me, although it was probably more accurate to say that the little white caretaker’s cottage in which we lived was in the church’s backyard. In most of my memories, the church is an empty building: because my Father was the janitor, he would take me there when he was cleaning after services.
I was no more than five or six years old, and my younger brother and I would wander up and down the aisles and between the pews. My first impressions of church include the red carpet, pale yellow wood of the pews, the shining brass candlesticks and bright rainbow lights streaming through the stain glass windows.
When it was communion Sunday my father’s job was to wash the glass communion cups after the service. My brother and I would help him. We would run up and down the long rows in a race to find all the little glasses in their holders, and gather them up for washing. A big part of the race was to find if anyone had left any wine in their cup. The church used real wine, (it said “sacramental wine” on the label) and any small amount remaining was a prize that we as small boys would eagerly drink up, and then make wry faces at the strange taste. Once in a while in the back rows there would be a full cup. It seemed that Rick always found that one before I did.
The one thing that made the strongest and longest lasting impression on my young mind was a red velvet rope. It was stretched across the ends to the two last rows of pews. One end was attached to the back of a pew, and the other draped over a hook on new pew in front. I saw it as a beautiful thing. It was so shiny and red, and so smooth and soft to touch; I loved to run my hands along it.
My father explained to me that the red velvet rope was there as a barrier to keep people from sitting in those pews. It was a sign to tell people: “You can’t sit here”. Only one family was allowed to lift the red velvet rope and sit there. It was because they had paid for those pews, and they belonged to their family.
I understood that this family was rich. They were the wealthiest family in the church, and Farringdon had many wealthy families. The richest people in Branford lived in the area of Rose Ave, and Tutela Heights, and they went to Farringdon to church. The family that owned the pew with the red velvet rope might be the richest people in Brantford.
I also understood that my family was the poorest family in the church. I knew we were poor because we didn’t own the house we lived in; it belonged to the church and they let us live there because my father was the caretaker. I knew we were poor because the clothes I wore were from the children of the other families when they didn’t need them anymore. Our clothes came in big cardboard boxes of things that the “Ladies’ Aid Society” collected for the needy, and we got a box too. I knew we were poor because my father worked cleaning the church and the church paid him. The well-to-do deacons of Farringdon knew that my father could not make ends meet on what they paid him, and that he had to work three other jobs. He worked for both the cemetery and the church, and also cleaned other churches in town. They knew that my father had a growing family, but when he came to them for more pay they told him that it was his own fault for having so many children.
I was only five or six years old, but the red velvet rope bothered me. In my young mind I told myself: “How can anyone own a piece of God’s house? How can those people say that this pew is theirs and no one else can sit there?” I told myself that this wasn’t right, and I would never believe it was right. The red velvet rope didn’t seem so shiny then. My first impression of church is a big empty building with fancy knickknacks, and religious people with a great big sign that says “you can’t sit here.”
I think a lot of people see church as a place with a "you can't sit here" sign. Hell, I've even felt that way and I've been "in church" since I was a child. I get it though, I really do. Not every church is welcoming and many can seem like they have an invisible red velvet rope that only a select few are good enough to step past. That's not even considering the red velvet ropes we can create for ourselves by assuming that our physical appearance, our past, our personalities, our questions about life, etc, make us persona non grata - unwelcome.
I'm very happy that my dad found somewhere without red velvet ropes. He certainly wouldn't be the man he is today, without first finding Christ and then finding a community of believers he could live life with. For myself, I've been very lucky to find a church where I feel like I belong, where I can be real and where I can build real relationships with people. It's not a church that everyone will feel comfortable at, I get that. I mean, there really is some truth to the idea of "different strokes for different folks"( My sisters and I, for example, all have different personalities and as a result, in my opinion, go to very different types of churches - Anglican, Baptist and Charismatic) but the leadership and congregation of the church I attend makes a concentrated effort to never erect the kind of red velvet ropes that have put people off church.
At the risk of sounding preachy, if you happen to find yourself on a quest for meaning, looking for freedom or taking another look at Christianity I encourage you to take a look at some of your local churches. It might take a couple before you find one where you feel at home or one that suits your personality. Eventually though, hopefully sooner rather than later, you'll find you a place free of red velvet ropes, somewhere in which hope, freedom and community are the order of the day.