I will introduce the third and final subject of our journey from evangelicalism to mainline Christianity with a story...
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Lee was a writer and photographer, the kind of person who drew strength and energy from being alone and working on her arts. She and Frank had been married twenty-four years; it was a second marriage for both of them, each having divorced from unhappy first unions. Neither had brought children to the marriage and, after a few tearful arguments early in their life together, the subject of having children with one another never came up again.
Frank worked hard, long hours, and provided well for them, freeing Lee to pursue her artistic interests. Then, unexpectedly, a few years before retirement, he was diagnosed with cancer and almost before you knew it, Frank was bed bound and his free-spirited wife lost her liberty. She attended to his needs night and day, feeding him, helping him to the toilet, passing his medicines, and getting him up in the recliner where he watched TV, increasingly distant and dependent. At first she got out for an hour or two here and there, but Lee could see that those opportunities were diminishing; she became more and more afraid to leave Frank alone for fear he would awaken confused and fall out of bed.
And so Lee became despondent. Frank’s constant demands kept her from pursuing the solitude and creative work she needed to refuel her spirit. They had no family to help them, and couldn’t really afford paid caregivers. Lee discovered she had few human supports on which to lean, and she felt alone, helpless and hopeless.
But a new sense of spiritual hunger also grew in Lee. She began reading the Bible and thinking about church. “Maybe a church family would provide some help with Frank,” she thought. She remembered that there was a new, large congregation a few blocks away, on the edge of her neighborhood. You could almost see it from her house. She decided to phone.
“Jericho Community Church,” the receptionist answered. “How may I direct your call?”
“I’m not sure who to talk to,” said Lee. “I live in the neighborhood and I’m wondering if you have anyone who could help me by coming to my house for a few hours to sit with my husband who has cancer.”
The receptionist transferred her to the Outreach Office. “Are you a member of our church?” the woman there asked her. When Lee said no, she offered to send an evangelistic team over to the house to talk with her and Frank. “But that’s not really what I’m interested in,” Lee protested. “Right now, I’m kind of homebound because of my husband’s illness. I hope to visit your church soon, but what I really need at the moment is a volunteer who can help me by coming to sit with my husband for an hour or two a week. Can you help?”
Again she was put on hold and transferred, this time to the Small Groups Office. “Are you in one of our Care Groups?” she was asked. “We care for our members through a network of small home groups. If you come to church this Sunday, we could hook you up with one of our Care Group leaders and maybe you could find a group to be part of.” And once more Lee tried in vain to communicate her need. She finally hung up the phone with a sigh.
She moved to the front window and looked out, wondering where to turn next. As she watched, two men crossed the street and walked down the sidewalk opposite her house. For a moment, they glanced up and saw her lonely figure through the darkened glass. Then, redirecting their eyes, they walked on. Lee watched until they reached the end of her street, and turned to walk south, to the church at the edge of her neighborhood.