Messy church

Pastoral Messages | December 31, 2015

It’s not easy being the church these days. Actually, it has never been easy. But let’s focus on the present moment since that’s where we find ourselves.

By difficult, I don’t mean weathering critics of the church who enjoy pointing out how Christians lack a holy shine (as if being Christian is about living tarnish free). I am not thinking of what it takes to survive as the church in an increasingly secular culture where other priorities constantly catch the fancy of people.

I have in mind the requirements associated with being faithful to Jesus given the messiness of people who are, well … messy.

I stepped into one of Chicago’s tall steeple churches the other day. “Tall steeple” is shorthand for large edifice, storied tradition, significant endowment, challenged parking, and constant repair – a sanctuary that some long-ago architect intentionally situated in the heart of city traffic.

It was a Tuesday, so I imagined the church to be empty. I walked in the door and climbed the steps to the balcony. My eyes, even with the chandeliers of floating light, could see people in the cavernous space below. There were 17 of them scattered among the pews. I know this for a fact. I counted them.

Once back downstairs it was clear that these guys – two women were in the mix as well – were homeless souls. There is a look of weariness and a bedraggled attire that goes with not having a warm bed to collapse in each night. Guests in this church are not permitted to lie down in the pews, though they are welcome to stay as long as they wish, even sleep, just so they remain seated upright.

Numbers of these men, buried in their bulk of winter clothing, were asleep. One arm on the pew back, bent at the elbow, can prop up even the heaviest head. While not ideal for deep sleep, it’s something.

I asked a staff member why half of the sanctuary pews were roped off. He explained that in the section where guests come and sit, the pew cushions get pulled during the week. This recent decision, made reluctantly, is an attempt to accommodate a fresh problem.

It turns out that a homeless woman who frequents the church has incredibly difficult hygiene issues, much more severe than others who visit. Her enveloping odor is nose burning to the point where it is difficult to be in close proximity. Her urinary challenges kept destroying pew cushions.

What can the church do with limited staffing, countless guests each week, and a desire to remain open to all? Before you judge the church to be morally depraved in making its pew cushion decision, think of all the other churches you know and how they would measure up. My guess is that most of them wouldn’t hold a candle to the open door hospitality of this place.

When I walked in on Tuesday, the door wasn’t merely unlocked; it was propped open. Every day of the week the little doorstop on that enormous door is intentionally in the down position. Three degrees above zero? The door is open. Ninety-eight degrees outside and humid? It’s open. That doorstop is one steady symbol of hospitality. So is the heat inside provided during the winter, the welcome sign in the center aisle to greet all guests, and the staff members who serve up meals to anyone in need.

It’s quite a church. Messy, for sure. But what else is there if one is serious about following Jesus?

Peter Marty, senior pastor

3 Comments on “Messy church”

  • Jack miller

    January 1, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Great story, so real. Reading reminded me of when I went to the store today, I saw a young woman handicapped struggling with a stuck cart. I offered to help and she was very grateful. Only took a minute of my time, but very rewarding. Happy New Year to all and God bless

  • Irene Hanssen

    January 1, 2016 at 9:01 am

    I would picture the sanctuary of that church much like many of the homes many of came from, “the lived in look”. So, there were things out of place, the furniture could use dusting, and the kitchen floor sweeping, but we were happy and well cared for. If a well used placed is spotless it tells me there is more importance placed on appearance then there is on how we truly care for those in need. My hat goes off to those that prop open that door to let them to know they are welcome to be there.

  • Luciaoore

    December 31, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Right on and a happy, healthy and blessed New Year to you and Susan and your dear family. Lucia and Dick

Leave a Reply to Luciaoore Cancel Reply

Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”