This piece reflects the views of the author, Anneliese Wahlman, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected].
Unlike people, numbers don’t lie. With the rapid decline in weekend attendance, the truth is out — apparently, church sucks. That was quite literally the writing on the wall, or sign that was outside the EMU on Thursday afternoon.
When something sucks and you want to know why, you talk about it. So 31 students from a local Bible school called ARISE decided to do just that. Holding a big sign that read, “Tell Us Why ‘Church Sucks,’” the group set up a three-sided plywood wall. As people passed, they invited them to write on the wall and share their honest feelings about church.
As passersby realized what the project was about, eyes grew big, eyebrows furrowed in skepticism and some wore smiles of relief. By 5 p.m., there was no space left to write on the wall. I walked around with my Sony, snapping photos of the heartbreaking messages. Someone’s uncle was molested by a priest. Someone didn’t know how to have emotional boundaries anymore. Most felt judged or rejected. A wound had been opened up and was bleeding out in sharpie ink.
The real irony, as many passersby discovered, is that ARISE itself is a Christian organization and part of the UO’s Religious Directors Association. All of the students attend Storyline, a church startup in Eugene, as part of the program. Reise, a project leader, explained their inspiration: “[We] really wanted to do something for people who’ve been hurt by the church,” and show that, “God despises the evils committed against [them].” The idea was to acknowledge people’s pain and to “just listen,” as Michael, another project leader, said. The students also passed out cards that said phrases like, “We’re sorry for hurting you.”
If you were to talk with Reise or Michael, as well as other project leaders like Sharon or Arlana, you’d quickly realize this project had deep roots in their own personal stories. In fact, each one wrote on the wall themselves because each has felt the sting of rejection from people who claimed the name of Christ; people who supposedly knew God’s love. Sharon — who left the church for eight years because of hurtful experiences with other Christians — explained to me, “some of those things that are on the wall — they happened to me.”
As we talked, I saw the gratitude they felt for every person who shared their pain, and yet, they told me they wished they talked less and listened even more. They clearly didn’t want to set themselves up as special or better than anyone. “We wanted to show we’re sorry. We’re listening. We’re trying. We’re you.”
They were also clear that they weren’t trying to invite people back into a place where no one ever gets hurt. In fact, the ARISE group wasn’t intending to invite anyone to church at all. But, perhaps, by simply acknowledging and apologizing, they could start the healing process and be a little more like the Man they claim to follow.
The wall was only up for a couple hours, but in those hours, a few people tried to create a space for empathy and compassion, and no matter what you believe, I think that’s something we can all agree is beautiful.
Anneliese Wahlman—Contributes to the blog over at http://lightbearers.org/blog. Manages social media for the ARISE program. Loves writing poetry while simultaneously burning grilled cheese sandwiches.