Fathom Mag

Fighting to Love Christ’s Church

Published on:
June 20, 2024
Read time:
4 min.
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I couldn’t get to the body.

We already stood out as first-time visitors in a tiny church. Frustrated and trying not to cause a scene, I whispered to Matt that my disposable communion packet was defective. The top layer would not peel, and Christ’s body given for me was unattainable. We moved on to the blood. As the woman was coming around the corner with the trash can, Matt began to make it his mission to penetrate through the deceivingly strong film on my communion packet. She held out the trash can and Matt, always the hero, was about to say something to her. I motioned to him to just let it go. Throw it away. You could tell he felt wrong disposing of a sacred sacrament that way. When she moved on to the next row, I whispered, “It’s okay. It’s just a metaphor for my life.”

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My family needs the body of Christ, but it’s elusive to us right now. There I was, acting it out in this scene during worship just as much as the story we enact together in the rest of the liturgy. “Lord, you see me. Why won’t you give us your body?” Ironically, we sang “Nothing but the Blood” as the follow-up song. It was like Christ’s words of assurance spoken back through the singing voices of the small congregation. His blood is enough sustenance for now. 

It’s been one year since we officially left our church and denomination, asking for our membership to be removed. Usually, when you change churches, you can keep your old membership until you find another church in which to formally transfer it. But our entire family agreed that we could no longer legitimize the denomination with our membership, even in name only. And I wasn’t safe there. My elders and pastor would continually be hounded to file ecclesial charges against me or face charges against themselves. 

I wish I could say, “So we said, ‘peace out,’ and now we are in a thriving church community.” But it’s been a disappointing year. Those of you who have been harmed by the church know how difficult it is to even go. Some of you are processing so much trauma that your bodies just cannot make that step right now. The very place and people God promised as a blessing to you has instead become a source of harm. I don’t want to shame anyone who is suffering like this. God sees and loves you no matter what your church attendance record is. And if you are a church leader reading this, know that your community includes people with open wounds from church trauma. Instead of turning your nose up at those who aren’t answering the call to corporate worship, consider exercising empathy and seeing how you can be Christ’s body to them during this time. With consent. Not as a project. By being a friend. 

Those of you who are reading and regularly in church, be the person who is pleasantly curious and hospitable.

After singing the last song, that moment of awkwardness arose, one that our family knows all too well. Friends begin talking, and we wriggle there like bait, deciding whether to wait for someone to talk to us or to slip out the door. We’ve been slipping out the door more often. Standing there is such an uncomfortable feeling! Those of you who are reading and regularly in church, be the person who is pleasantly curious and hospitable. The pastor of this church was that person. He caught my husband right as we were leaving the room. So I turned around as well.

For the first time on a Sunday morning in quite a while, we drove home with some hope. It made me realize how afraid I am to have hope now. The church we’ve been looking for doesn’t exist within a twenty-five-minute driving radius—our self-designated commuting limit to cultivate and serve in community. We want something confessional, in that it holds to the creeds that the early church confessed. We hope for some rich liturgy—a participatory order of worship that leads us by invitation, song, confession, absolution, sacrament, and prayer to spiritually ascend Mount Zion before blessing us in the Lord and sending us back out as salt and light. We are looking for a form of church government that isn’t obsessed with power-over hierarchy and patriarchy, one that invests in every-member ministry while overseeing and protecting God’s household. We are steering clear of churches that align with a political party and yet hoping to find a community that does speak into the injustice and the social challenges of our day. We want a church that is full of grace while also promoting holiness. We would love to be in a diverse community where we are truly sharpened and where programs don’t replace personal invitations. We have no patience left for sentimentality or fundamentalism. Give us something real. No church face. No tribalism. No pyramid schemes targeting housewives. No conspiracy theories. And we can’t in good conscience join a denomination that is revealing devastating patterns of enabling abusers. Sadly, that eliminates a lot of churches. We are beginning to realize we are looking for a unicorn.

I hope not for a church to love. My hope is the Beloved of the church. And he is with his people.

The good thing is Christ does not leave us lying underground by ourselves. It’s crowded down here. And he meets us wherever we are. Through the last year, Matt and I found others down here that we wouldn’t have expected. In learning the earthly otherness of these others—friends, disillusioned ones taking off their church faces—we are learning that nothing is achieved alone. This is what the body of Christ looks like. God’s been providing his people with each other even in the absence of beauty in the local church. As theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar put it, “Devotion to the Church in the present age will be, at its core, not love toward the Church, but love that is that of the church.”[1]

Ready to read the whole book?

The Hope in Our Scars is out now.

That is worth fighting for.

This helps me direct my hope. I hope not for a church to love. My hope is the Beloved of the church. And he is with his people. He shows up in the voices, hands, and hugs of others. So in our disillusionment with church and our struggle to find one, we can still give Christ’s love to one another.

Aimee Byrd
Aimee Byrd is an author, speaker, blogger, podcaster, and former coffee shop owner. Aimee is author of several books, including The Hope in Our Scars. Her articles have appeared in First Things, Table Talk, Modern Reformation, By Faith, New Horizons, Ordained Servant, Harvest USA, and Credo Magazine, and she has been interviewed and quoted in Christianity Today and The Atlantic.

[1] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 62.

Taken from The Hope in Our Scars by Aimee Byrd. Copyright © 2024 by Aimee Byrd. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Cover image by Luis Villasmil.

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