Christian Fellowship at Its Best

This is the story of feeling very unwelcome in my own home town.

CBS News came to town in the spring of 1990 to do a story about men and women with children who marry people who also have children. My editor asked me to go to a church and photograph the video news crew covering this story. It seemed like an interesting piece for our paper to do, with only the usual two flaws. 1) It was the media covering itself, and 2) It sort of smacked of small-town hicks getting excited because big-city tv people were visiting. As I write this, I don’t want to name the church where they were filming, and saying that it was a Baptist church doesn’t narrow it down much. Let’s just say it was Ada’s biggest church, and let readers surmise the rest.

At the time if this event, I was getting to know my second 20mm lens, which in the film days was in the class known as ultra-wideangle. I had it on one of the cameras when I left the  office, and was looking forward to using it.

CBS News corespondent Erin Moriarty, sporting very 1990-era hair, visits with one of her camera crew at 15th and Broadway in Ada, spring 1990.
CBS News corespondent Erin Moriarty, sporting very 1990-era hair, visits with one of her camera crew at 15th and Broadway in Ada, spring 1990.

The crew was already working when I arrived, filming the rehearsal of the wedding slated for the next day. Everyone seemed busy, and since the crew was taking sound, I thought it best to begin working and stay quiet. As always, I shot first from a distance, with my 105mm. I picked up this habit from working breaking news scenes where I might get thrown out for safety or other reasons, so I shoot with a longer lens as I approach, so I won’t go home empty-handed. Then I moved closer and shot a bit with my 35mm, then finally got up on the stage with the crew and make some nice close-in stuff with the 20mm. As I stood there, one camera operator moving toward me from my right reached out and touched my arm, which I correctly interpreted to mean he needed to move where I stood, so I got out of the way.

I made a few more images, then stepped outside to walk the four blocks back to my office. Within a few seconds, a woman, who did not identify herself, came out behind me and called my name. I turned around and said something like, “Yes, ma’am?”

“I want you to know that you will never be welcome in this church again.”

I, uh… what? I literally stood there with my mouth open for a few seconds. Did she really just say that? Why?

To this day, no one at Ada’s biggest church has ever explained why someone, speaking as their representative, told me I would never be welcome again. Nor has anyone at that church ever, not once, told me I was welcome.

This, faithful readers, is the kernel of Christian fellowship. I am not welcome.

About that time, the camera crew and CBS News correspondent Erin Moriarty came out also, having finished shooting inside the church. I had a cordial chat with all three of them, and they were just as puzzled as I was that this church would be so hostile and unaccommodating, so my behavior with the news crew obviously wasn’t the problem. (I thought of this story last night as my wife and I watched 48 Hours Mystery, which was narrated last night by Moriarty.)

So for the last 21 years, I have regarded Ada’s largest church as a place where, while I sometimes go there to do my photo assignments, I am not welcome.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Margaret Ann White:

    Richard, do you approve of the words and actions of every person in the athiest community? You hold on to the actions of this one person to represent the church entirely? If you would allow them, that church would love you. Even though you won’t allow them, they’ll still love you. I dare you to go into that church and talk with the pastor.

    My answer:

    1) Atheists don’t profess to be “stewards of fellowship.”
    2) No atheist groups have ever been this rude to me, seemingly because of no reason at all.
    3) Xtians and that church are my scapegoat in this post. I know that this instance doesn’t represent Xtians as a group, but one Xtian who was very “un-Christian” in her actions. But I reserve the right to gripe any way I want on my blog.

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  2. It is a very odd story. I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed something like that in my 30 or so years of church attendance (having attended over 200 churches in my time).

    When I feel unwelcome in a church, it’s normally because of something they did unintentionally, like probe for too much personal information or ask me to stand in front of a group and introduce myself.

    However, most churches I’ve attended have at least one person who *believes* they represent the church yet often acts brutishly toward outsiders (normally milder than what you’ve described above).

    ** Now I sound like I’m defending the church, but I’m not. Just expressing dismay at this one person’s actions. **

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  3. Oh come on now, Richard!! For all you know that woman may have been a mental hospital reject who thought that you were the devil! Most likely she was a church member, but I can say with reasonable certainty that she does not officially represent the church welcome committee!! I’d love to delve into this deeper, but I can’t. I understand that some Muslims are going to build a mosque in the neighborhood and I have to go protest because as you know, all Muslims are terrorists.

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  4. “because as you know, all Muslims are terrorists.”

    :-)

    Wouldn’t it be easier if only professed atheists were terrorists? Then Muslims and Christians could join hands and fight the infidels together… (Also, based on published demographics, we’d have far less terrorism that way…)

    Just a thought (and mostly testing out the password). G’day. :-)

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  5. >>”you will never be welcome in this church again.”< < This plainly infers that she speaks for the church. It also uses the dreaded "never," which implies that she has spoken on behalf of the church in perpetuity. Margaret, if you think if I called her a bitch and kicked her in the knee that she would contact my atheist minister and meet to discuss if she was welcome in our midst? If so, you know nothing of the way the world works: This horrible woman was representing a specific group, one whose entire purpose is to spread the message of their faith, which seems to be "get the hell out of our church, you dick." I, on the other hand, do not represent any group, because I don't profess a belief in something; I state something I do not believe, and that does not mean I belong to a group. Finally, it is naive for you to think this woman didn't mean to alienate me in the name of the church, and it is equally naive to believe that the whole church wasn't behind it. If you came into my newspaper and wanted to buy a subscription, but spilled a drink on someone's desk, would it be okay for one of my coworkers to say, "you will never be welcome in this newspaper again.” And if that did happen, would she be representing my newspaper? Would you ever buy my newspaper again?

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