I am visibly tattooed
Half my head is shaved
I have a piercing through my lip
I wear makeup
I wear pants
Given all these items listed above you are not imagining a Pentecostal woman. I’m here to surprise you though, for at the very soul of my spiritual foundation lies a cornerstone of Pentecostal Apostolic beliefs. Before you run away and think this post wont apply to you or your denomination I assure you, yes, this message applies to all of us. Though your religion may not have the same standard you expect of Pentecost, every religion has it standards.
A few weeks ago I volunteered to help out at a friend’s Pentecostal children’s vacation bible school. I expected I would show up, corral kids from point A to B, maybe serve food, basic parenting volunteer stuff. I bought some skirts merely out of respect for the other ladies, just enough to get me through camp. I was surprised to receive a text a week before camp was due to start asking if I would come in to help with decorating.
I knew this would mean moving, painting, ladders, and I am so out of practice with skirts I didn’t want to risk a wardrobe malfunction in the presence of complete strangers so chose to wear my pants. My piercing was also fairly new and could not yet be removed temporarily without risk of it closing up.
Day one. I know not a single soul I am meeting with. They know nothing of my pentecostal roots and I am fairly glad at first because the ultimate curse within this denomination is to be considered a backslider. It is the lowest insult you can be called. I DO NOT consider myself one in the least.
The lady I am to be helping is in every way visually “typical” of what you would expect to see on the church pew come Sunday. Each person I met throughout the day continued to reassure me I was out-of-place. I had a feeling after this day I would not be getting called back the next to help. I felt surely they would find somebody to fill in and suddenly not need my services so much. I wasn’t the face you would want attached to your church program.
I have seen a lady pulled out of the middle of praise and worship and asked to remove her earrings in my childhood church. My own mother had her wedding band “rebuked” after forgetting to remove it after work. Mind you, this is all by the elder women of the church who we like to assume have all died out, but do we not learn from our elders? We follow their example right? Would I be treated with distaste for my appearance and not my heart?
Then…. nothing happened. The entire week, nothing. I was treated like any other member of the church. Nobody ever mentioned the blaring piece of metal hanging in my lip. Nobody asked why I had shaved half of my “beautiful head”, as others like to say. Nobody asked I put on a skirt to make them more comfortable. Even the older ladies of the church, who in my experience tend to be the most condemning, never once gave the slightest hint of discomfort. They each looked me in the eye when speaking to me and thanked me with true sincerity for my help.
I sank into myself a little when I was introduced to a member of the pastoral team, he never paused to give me a curious look, he shook my hand, thanked me, and continued about his activities. He made a point to know my name and thank me again later in the week, once again, never even pausing to question “Why does someone who looks like this want to help here?”
Camp started the following week where I continued to volunteer my help. During all this I begin meeting others who did not look “typical” of the church and assumed they were also volunteers like myself. No, they were members, members who had found the spiritual home they needed within this church.
Here is what I find the most amazing part of it all. During all these exchanges that took place over the course of those two weeks, not a single person ended our conversation with “You should join us for a service!” The only time it ever came up is when I, myself, asked about their service schedule.
You may be thinking “That is awful! What a missed opportunity.” No, this was the most beautiful part of the entire thing to me. Had any one person used that line after the kindness they showed I would have immediately disregarded their kindness for the church version of a sales tactic. Had any of them said this it would have also showed that they most likely assumed I didn’t attend church elsewhere, or that I needed God in my life because he was most likely absent.
Truth is I have a personal walk with God. It grew so much stronger after I left my previous small town pentecostal mindset. A mindset where everyone is bad but those who look, walk, and act like us. I’ve seen it kill churches, kill families, kill relationships, stir hate, things not of the God I serve.
To be a christian means to be like Christ. We hear we must let him shine through us. That means exactly that. It does not mean beat your bible, your pick and choose version of verses, and your standards over the head of those you deem “not christian enough”. It means to serve, love, and treat the prostitute and the politician as complete equals in all aspects of your love and respect.
The congregation at the Pentecostals of Lee Road has shown me that I have to break the stereotype I was taught as a child that pentecost is an exclusive religion. I can not be embarrassed to tell people my religion for fear they would think I believed myself better than them. I CAN still feel welcome in a house of God where you truly feel his presence. I can worship freely without being “attacked” by well-meaning christians seeking to ‘pray me through’ because simply lifting my hands means I suddenly feel the need to change my entire life.
This goes for all of you. Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Non Denominational. Treat your visitors like your members. Don’t drag them to a service in guilt. You are not better than anyone. Show kindness, show equality, and let God handle the rest. Standard is not what will save your soul. Following your convictions will and God can handle those just fine. If your church is full of perfect examples of your beliefes then it’s not a place where I want to be. It is obviously not a place of growth, but a place of routine.
I do not currently have a home church, but after the exemplary example set by the people of POLR, me and my boys belive we have found exactly where to start.
I am also happy to hear, that church I grew up in, the one full of backwards looks and “with us or against us” mentality, is learning. I hear it is growing once again after decades of being held together by a thread. People are catching on, love is spreading, and I hope to continue to hear good come from that little Light House on HWY 4.