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

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.

#Yoked: On Being Yoked

Yoked magnet

This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry. It was originally posted at Christian Century.

Brian and I are at the Farmer’s Market. I walk up to the vendors, and the wife says, “Oh! You must be Pastor Brian’s wife.”

I shake her hand and say, “Yes, I am Brian’s wife. My name is Carol Howard Merritt.” As she introduces me to her husband, I wonder if I should have added the “Reverend” to my name. I don’t usually use the prefix, but should I have notified them that I’m a pastor too?

The husband begins to tell me how hard it is being a pastor. He knows, because his son serves a church.

I am patient for a while, but then his proxy complaints begin rubbing me the wrong way. Of course, I know the job is difficult, but I have just left an interim position and there is no other pastoral position in sight.

We moved here because my husband had an opportunity to start a church. Since he was the trailing spouse during our last three moves, I owed him. Plus, I have also been writing and speaking for eight years, and a good deal of my income is not bound to any particular geography. It made sense for me to relocate. I am very busy, but concentrating on those things means scheduling my calendar months in advance, which makes me a less likely pastoral candidate.

I really should be thankful for my place in this world. I am thankful. But I also love being a pastor and I can’t help but indulge in a certain longing for my previous positions. I visit lectionary sites during the week, reading the passages, imagining what I would preach, if I could. Then I catch myself and quickly close the Internet, feeling like a stalking ex-lover.

Finally, I break into the conversation. “I’m a pastor too. There are a lot of good things about the job.”

“Oh, it looks good. From the outside, maybe. But believe me, it’s tough.” He starts in again, enumerating all the complaints we gripe about at clergy gatherings.

“I know. I’m a pastor too,” I repeat. “I have served churches for 15 years. I had a lot of good moments during that time.”

“But, you really don’t understand…” and he’s off to the races, letting me know that being a pastor’s wife is different than being a pastor. He knows, because of his son.

My face is hot with anger now. I wish I could shrug him off. Who cares what he thinks? I REALLY wish I didn’t care. But, I do. So for the third time, I tell him that I am a pastor. When he still doesn’t get it, it would be comical, if I weren’t upset. Then his wife interrupts him, puts her hand on his forearm until he looks at her face, and says slowly and patiently, “She is a pastor too.”

He looks at me, blankly. “But you’re just an associate, right?”

I practically run from the market. My cheeks feel like a pair of tomato pincushions, being pricked by a hundred needles. In my head, I list my accomplishments and achievements. I was a good student in seminary. I have written books. I speak at conferences. Important people have said nice things me.

On one hand, people should listen to me, in spite of my resume. On the other hand, I feel like he just erased twenty-two years of preparation and service. Then, I begin to add up all the other slights. I know it’s just my over-inflated ego. I know I should just be happy serving Jesus, but I want them to quit ignoring me. I want them to stop deferring all of their questions to my husband. I want them to know that my opinion matters too.

But most of all, I REALLY wish I didn’t care. 

Carol Howard Merritt is author of Tribal Church and cohost of God Complex Radio. Her blog is hosted by the Century. 

#ThrowbackThursday: Accept No Substitutes

#ThrowbackThursday: Accept No Substitutes


Reblogged from 2012.

I didn’t make it to church this morning. I had every good intention last night, and planned out the morning as I lay in bed so I could squeeze in a shower and smell nice, the babies would eat breakfast and take a nap beforehand.

I know, I know, the road to hell…anyways. The babies went down for their nap, and so did I.

But I continue to mull over what Christine had sent me a while ago – a blog post called “The Desert Mothers Didn’t Change Diapers. But Maybe They Should Have,” written by Penny Carothers, a guest writer on Don Miller’s blog Don Miller Is. She articulates exactly what I have been feeling for a while in terms of thinking that my spirituality, my faith life, my devotional life, my connection to God needed to be a certain way. But, she challenges that obligation, and offers the possibility of “the sanctification of the ordinary” in these words:

[It] has got me thinking: what if there really is a different way? What if God intended the hug of a child to mirror the numinous moment others achieve through meditation? What if attending to the needs and the play of children – really attending, not reading the news on my phone or folding laundry while I listen with half an ear – was a window into the spiritual? What if all I really needed to do was simply be present? After all, God calls himself a lover and a parent, and perhaps there is something to learn in embracing my life rather than trying to escape it so I can have real communion with God.

It’s still a little shocking, but perhaps the most spiritual thing I can do may be to embrace my life as a mother. Not a spiritual, metaphorical mother, but a snot-wiping, baby-chasing, diaper bag-toting mother. Because sometimes it’s not the bible stories or the lectio divina, but the Help! and thank you that a relationship is built on.

So, I put on some classical music for a little bit. The babies and I listened to their Pap’s sermon from last Sunday on my Iphone. We played with rattles and cars. I sang “Spirit of the Living God,”to them. We played with kitchen paraphernalia. I threw them up in the air a few times just to hear them squeal and laugh. I played some more hymns and worship-y songs on the piano. We ate lunch.

It wasn’t church, and I really believe there is no substitute for the communion of saints each Sunday, but I was still blessed by it. I believe I can still worship through attending to these moments, and of course, there’s always next Sunday.

Streams Run Uphill Blog Tour: Week 1

Streams Run Uphill Blog Tour: Week 1


So thankful for the words and support, and honest engagement for those who’ve posted so far about #streamsrunuphill. It’s so hugely important to me that these writers and stories are heard widely in the church. Please spread the word so that the resource becomes available and known especially to those young women of color!

Caryn Riswold

Dan Wilkinson

And for Unfundentalist Christians for reposting at their place.

Publishers Weekly
Ministry Matters by Bromleigh McClenaghan

More to come including:

Sarah Bessey
Krista Dalton
Kathy Escobar
Young Lee Hertig
Adam Hollowell
Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Kathy Khang
Carol Howard Merrit
Micah Murray at Redemption Pictures

This American Life Tangent: Who Holds the Patent on Church?


I’m really honored to be part an incredible group of folks to share and write about topics concerning ministry and leadership over at the new Presbyterian Outlook blog.

My mom and I were driving back up to her home with the kids with the plan to stay there for two weeks. These sorts of visits become a pseudo-break for me, and I have to maximize every second while I have the extra help. Normally on the drive up I would listen to the Indigo Girls and sing along at the top of my lungs. Instead, while the kids are mesmerized by Curious George 2 on the iPad strapped to my headrest by a bungee cord, I am listening to podcasts, one of which is This American Life.

I randomly chose “When Patents Attack,” thinking it would likely not hold my attention for long. But of course, I was wrong. I got sucked into the story of journalists who explored their current usefulness and controversial nature of patents especially in the context of the tech industry. Apparently, patents have become basically an obsolete way of licensing in the US. Its original intent was not simply to protect the creative inventor, which is what originally came to my mind, but a way to share information. For instance, the cotton gin would never have become what it is without the patent because Eli Whitney would have kept it locked up in a dark shed.

And yet, today the purpose has become so diluted by legal and technical gibberish to mask the uninspired creations of scientists and engineers that hardly understand themselves what is being licensed and for what purpose. “Patent trolls” are companies that amass huge troves of patents and make money by threatening lawsuits. The journalists who covered this story eventually discover a hallway full of empty companies with no employees.

Read the rest at The Outpost and check out the other blogposts!