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The word “church” has become a ruined word for a lot of people.

Hot-blooded religious extremists who attract media attention have equated church with being judgmental. Lukewarm religious professionals have made church boring by modeling a weak and predictable Jesus. Cold-hearted critics have turned the word “church” into something irrelevant– the very opposite of what it should mean.

But if you stop by and take a look inside at what churches are actually doing these days you may be surprised. There is a unmistakable grace, adventure and importance subversively taking place under the guise of the church. Churches are once again gatherings where a person can meet the Jesus who makes indifferent people come alive for the sake of others.

We are living during the largest migration of human beings ever. Refugees are essentially a consequence of war and poverty. The church has been among the most invested advocates for refugee resettlement. It’s called hospitality and it’s what we do.

Hospitality reminds me of the word “hospital.” Take a look at hospitals all over the world. Many hospital histories reveal that they were initially sponsored and developed by the church. The same goes for many universities and other schools and centers for learning.

Some people would evaluate a society by how it cares for its elderly. In our region the vast majority of the senior care and assisted living beds are sponsored by—you guessed it – the church. On the other end of the age spectrum more and more faith communities are becoming trusted places of care by young families for their infants and toddlers.

Every soup kitchen in La Crosse exists because people in the church believe that feeding hungry people is a Godly thing to do (Place of Grace, Come For Supper and the Salvation Army to name a few). The largest financial contributors to our La Crescent Food Shelf are our local churches.

Recently children have come across the U.S. border and need to be cared for while their immigration requests are lawfully processed. We have seen terrible pictures of cages and such taken at private, for profit resettlement centers. When political types visit resettlement centers to show the other side of the story, as First Lady Melania Trump recently did, she chose to visit a church run center, contracted by the U.S. government, where young people are cared for well and ethically (and much less expensively than their “for profit” counterparts).

I have not even mentioned how churches are working for peace, teaching folks how to manage money, advocating for sustainable ecological practices, and empowering people to resist becoming overextended and overworked. We could point out how congregations are throwing block parties and fall dinners that weave our community together and keep the national epidemic of loneliness at bay. How the church is a safe place to embrace our differences, the only place left where four and five generations get together regularly to honor the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the elder.

Take a peek inside a church. You may be wonderfully surprised you did.

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