Believe it or not, for someone of faith I am something of a cynic. I recoil at a lot of what gets passed as 'Christian,' am nervous in large congregations, and naturally suspicious of miracle stories. But there's one thing, I've found, guaranteed to keep the doubts at bay, and believe it or not it's the church.
Yes that ragtag bunch of bickering bishops and doilied spinsters, the oldsters and youngsters, out of date, past their best, the weak, clever, creative and uncool, zealous and half hearted bunch of people who trudge to consecrated and crumbling buildings week in week out. Them. This troupe of media-trashed and tarnished sheep, I absolutely love them. They keep my faith alive. Here's why.
For every wisecracking #tweetofgod what you won't be reading or hearing about are the tens, dozens, hundreds and thousands of individual Christians the world over living for peace and doing good. We all know about the dodgy pastors, the few who make the headlines. I'm talking about ordinary everyday church people everywhere. I keep coming across them and being surprised by what I find. These guys, the normals, the ones with unsexy websites, are visiting the elderly, comforting the sick and writing to prisoners. They help people out of debt and into work. They mentor and inspire young people, host creches and playgroups, pour endless cups of tea, give their time freely to help others.
Christians are on the beaches in Greece, in earthquake territory in Nepal, in refugee camps, shelters, on ships and in hospitals. They are often the first to get to those most in need and hardest to reach. They help people into cabs and clean up after drunks on our city streets on Saturday nights. Whether it's education, trafficking, fostering or Fair Trade, the church is on the frontline of almost every social service you can think of, doing the lion's share of the work for free. If you can name ten international humanitarian organisations, I'll bet the majority are Christian or have a Christian ethic. Try naming five international atheist ones, and name one on a high street near you.
There are people out there who will love to tell you that the church is going down the pan but it's simply not the whole story, or even the leading part. Notwithstanding idiots, bigots and criminals, and God knows there's plenty to forgive, come hell or high water the church just keeps going. I've yet to see anything like it. Miraculous or marvellous, the church is here for good.