Deeper Story: Drive-Thru Church and How It’s Personal

“The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Staring out the windows. Airplanes inch along the ground and float in the sky. My cloudy eyes turn to the TV screens on every wall around me. Good Morning America, Fox News, ESPN, and the sight of a tabbed collar catches my eye on one show. I squint to read the yellow rectangle at the bottom where it says, “Drive-Thru Church” and a priest with an orange vest is standing in a parking lot hunched over the open window of one car. He shakes someone’s hand and the car moves forward as the one behind him moves up.

Father Matthew is the name of the priest, and he says, “we’re trying to think outside of the box,” and “quantity matters and not quality,” and it’s about “convenience.” I kind of take this almost as an insult. It’s personal. Never would I say that quantity matters or convenience. 

I slide down a little into my seat. As if the word “christian” or “clergy” is tattooed to my forehead and everyone is looking at it. I’m despairing, a little, at this “whatever works” way of doing church.

***

Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”

― Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

I’m drinking in every word slowly, letting it rest on my tongue then slide down the back of my throat, savoring it, but then suddenly chugging this chalice – before it disappears – made of words, mostly words I don’t understand because it’s written a little in Spanish and another native tongue. Anzaldua has nothing to do with church but she’s speaking of it to me. And it doesn’t matter that I can’t translate everything because what I can gather from the stories and poems is a struggle all too familiar.

The struggle for life. The struggle for lines to mark one's home or yard or walls or room. The struggle for love. The struggle is what binds us together, and we perform and embody it through the Word and words, sacrament and song, pews and prayers, cup and communion.Click To Tweet

It’s how we resist the darkness.

It’s church.

***

One drive-thru congregant mentions the ways this somehow makes it more personal. I think, “A three-minute Hail Mary or Our Father is … personal?” On a day that’s likely full of errands and soccer practice and music lessons and post-office trips, I look at this woman in a minivan, and breathe out, I have no right to judge what she needs from the church. But the pastor in me wonders and worries like a mother hen, if this is truly enough.

Does it give her something beyond words? Does it feed her? Does it give her hope? Does it sustain her life?

Because that’s church to me. The yes to these questions.

And, maybe she would say yes, though, to all those questions. In that moment, in that slight touch, in that brief, automatic whirr of a window that goes down and back up again, maybe, yes, she has found her borderland, a place to find air in the in-between of life-interrupted and chaos, maybe she received peace in that handshake, in the breath that finally comes out after being held all day long to hold everything together, in the words spoken over and through her – something that is truly personal, something that saves her.

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