When a church breaks, a thousand things happen at once. Lines are drawn. Words spoken.

Arms extended,


slapped away

hugs given.

Some people leave. Some people stay. Many listen, and so many of us grieve.

When a church breaks, she was already broken. She always was, and the only people who didn’t know were those with their eyes closed, with too much power and privilege to look away from her dark corners.

When a church breaks, her people realize they broke her themselves. By not acknowledging the extent of our own broken fingers and bent hearts, we pursued something that might not have been the gospel. I sat in meetings and stayed quiet. People sat in meetings and let me stay quiet. Some people quieted me in meetings. Others didn’t care meetings were happening at all. All at once.

When a church breaks and a thousand things happen in a moment, a thousand more stretch on for infinity.

We can’t imagine feeling “normal,”

imagine how this happened,

where we’re headed,

when this meeting will be over and my to-do list solidified into a
job description.

when I’ll feel safe here again

and why others don’t feel safe around me,

around her, around someone they used to trust—

around someone with a different opinion.

The unknown is not for the weary and heavy-laden, and yet that is what Christ gives us when a church breaks. When Christ insists that the burden is easy and the yoke light, we have only to look at our heavy-hearted brothers and sisters to see the contradiction. When experience and scripture war against one another, my Evangelical roots try to explain it away. “Let’s look for the word in Greek! Surely—surely—it means something different than what it appears.” (Spoilers: it doesn’t)

That impulse to find a way around a contradiction only proves the importance of resting in that mess. Truth isn’t hiding from us and God isn’t lying to us. He’s promising something. And in that promise, is hope.

The gospel insists that this heartache we feel now is headed toward something better. This is the trial of faith: when we find ourselves surrounded by the shattered pieces of what we thought was church, do we still believe that God is good and powerful? Have we ever actually believed that to rely on God is easy—or have we been doing it all ourselves?

Our church isn’t broken, but she is in so much pain and confusion that it feels like brokenness. In moments like these, a writer looks to her senses. She tries to see the world with her broken eyes. Touch it. Taste it.

Stale communion bread straight from the church freezer. The ancient hulk of a copier churns out muted-blue bulletins. Backs hunched over a toddler-sized table, fingers folding the blue paper into a booklet. Stack them, hand them out to someone who sits on the other side of the sanctuary. Mugs cooling in our hands as we listen, sing, and confess.

These things happen at once whether or not a church breaks. Infinite possibilities spring up in front of our feet as we consider where to place them, whether to extend a hand or slap someone down. Whether or not to choose faith, to choose vulnerability through confession, to see what is shattered and enter in rather than stepping around it.

What we are today, we will be tomorrow. The only difference lies in what we do with our brokenness.

Elaine Schnabel

Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).

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