From Fr. Dennis Miller, your pastor
Once in my previous assignment in Ames, I was standing in the gathering space of church greeting people. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a young man walking into church. He was wearing a shirt that seemed about four times too large, though at least it matched the size of his jeans. He had inch to inch and a half large disks in his ears and had one tattoo showing just over the top of his shirt on his neck. I won’t lie to you. My first thought was that this slime bag is probably here to cause trouble. But, thankfully, my cooler head prevailed and I decided to give him a chance. As I started walking towards him, I noticed that his head was pointed toward the floor while he looked out of the top of his eyes to navigate around people. I could tell he was trying to not make eye contact with me so that he wouldn’t have to talk to me but I wasn’t going to let him by without doing so. I reached out my hand and looked him in the eye and introduced myself and asked his name. He curtly told me it while continuing to look at the ground. I asked him if he was an Iowa State student, which seemed really dumb at the time but it kept the conversation going. He told me he was a Gen Ed major but that he was hoping to get into engineering. I told him that there were a lot of engineers that came to the church and maybe some of them could help him. At this point, for the first time, he raised his head and looked me in the eye, although he still looked scared. I told him that I glad he was here and that he could sit anywhere. He smiled as he walked past me and sat down. After a few weeks of seeing him and greeting him as warmly as I could, he confided in me just how scared he was to come to church that first time. He didn’t like the direction of his life and knew that he needed the church but feared walking into mass because of people’s judgment.
I’m reading a book with the Britt Ministerial Association called No Perfect People which, despite having a flawed view of grace, does challenge Christians to create a “come as you are” climate in church. The author says that we shouldn’t have expectations of people who come to our church but accept them as they are with the knowledge that, as they attend church and become a part of the body of Christ, they will be transformed as God wants them to be. Often, we set up expectations of our fellow mass goers that have nothing to do with spreading the gospel. We expect that people know exactly how to treat their crying child. We expect that people wear their Sunday best and have perfect hair and nothing unusual in their appearance. We expect that people not cough or make other noises. Basically, all too often, we expect not to be bothered when we come to church. But the whole point of church is to transform us from the inside out.
I know that I would never have seen that young man in Ames again if I would have approached him and told him to go and change his clothes. As it turned out, he ended up bringing other people who were deeply in need of knowing Christ with him to church in the next few weeks. In my time since coming to these six parishes, I’ve heard stories of people leaving church upset because of an unkind word from someone about the person’s appearance. I’m asking that this immediately cease. You never know what’s happening interiorly for that person and it’s important that we not give into the vain belief that what a person wears defines who the person is. If the person’s appearance bothers you so much that you cannot pray or participate, perhaps that speaks more about what you need to do interiorly than about anything they need to do.