By Lauryl Hebenstreit
I felt like simultaneously throwing up and making a run for it the first time I stepped into what was the Lutheran Center on 16th St. And it wasn’t the tacky 70s style carpet or the hole in the roof that made me so uneasy; it was the feeling of being in a church for the first time in months.
I had spent most of the summer before my freshman year dodging church. I went from Sunday school teacher to heretic before my dad could even scoff at the idea, and I felt like I’d burn alive if I stared long enough at an image of Jesus.
During my childhood and my teenage rebel phase, my priests and parents funneled religious dogma down my throat.
I spent years of my life going to church because my parents didn’t give me the choice to stay at home and watch Tom and Jerry. Church was a routine that grew into a habit and decayed into a chore. I suspect I’m not unusual in this regard.
The readings of the Old and New Testaments bored me. Moses, Elijah, and Noah were old men in a fictional story that weren’t even told that well. The hymns, even when sang beautifully, did not stir me in any way.
Again, I don’t believe this was an atypical response to church and religion growing up. What shook those around me was that I asked why. I asked how. I asked how in the Hell.
My questions were answered with reprimands and commands to be faithful. I confessed non-existent sins on bended knee, shedding tears over a God I did not even believe in.
A God I stopped thinking about until I stepped into the Lutheran Center.
I was on the brink of throwing up and ditching when this community offered me a space to doubt, a place where despite the questions, anger, and hurt, a love for Christ could rise from the ashes of a crumbled faith.
I believe now in a faith that is practical. I was met with open arms at the Lutheran Center even after I told the pastor he was full of it. It did not matter that I was an outsider, a drifter with doubts bigger than the holes in the ceiling.
What is and will always be beautiful about the Lutheran Center is that no matter the location or the time, there is something holy about a community devoted to questioning faith. The Lutheran Center is not a place of dogmatic teaching; it’s the home of a lived-in faith that is messy yet brimming to the top with a beautiful mission of worship, search, serve, and send.