For starters, I am “that guy” who is now a one-time-a-year church goer. I used to go to church regularly. But, following my own enlightenment period in college in Camden City, as well as an entire mass dedicated to a PowerPoint presentation as to why my Cherry Hill church needed millions of dollars for architectural enhancements, I decided that the church I was attending was not actually doing any works of God at all, so I stopped going.
I went to church this past Christmas Eve in order to make my mother happy. I figured I’d either burst into flames by entering the church or face the fiery wrath of a disapproving mother on Christmas. So, no matter what, there was burning in my future.
The church did look much different than it had five years ago. There was a welcome desk in the lobby with a flat screen tv, brand new pews, new light fixtures, a new sound system, brand new windows throughout the building, and a new array of woodwork. I grew angry at all of the unnecessary, fancy things that “decorated” the church. However, my burning anger towards these renovations was subdued as I stopped thinking of all of the more Godly acts the money could have been used for, just down the road in Camden. These thoughts stopped as the pastor welcomed everyone, announcing that it did not matter if I was gay, straight, an illegal alien, or a felon. As children of God, we were welcome in that church. Such a welcoming never would have happened five years ago. The church was such a different place under the previous Pope. So, because of such a liberal welcoming, and slight confusion, I stopped grumbling to myself, and I tuned into to the Christmas Eve homily.
The presiding priest set himself up to gain back my complete devotion to this Cherry Hill church. His message began with distinguishing two types of people in the world; The “in” crowd, and the “stable” people. The priest described the “in” crowd in biblical terms, so it really should read, the “inn” crowd, as in the place that was too full to house Joseph and Mary, forcing them into the stable as Mary birthed Jesus. He continued by saying that so often the “inn” crowd becomes so disconnected from not just the rest of society, but also with God. The stable people, he said, were closest to God and will live more righteous lives.
I thought that following this point, he was going to say, “So on this Christmas Eve, be grateful for what you have, for your homes, your health, and more. And be mindful of those who do not have those basic things. Go seek those who do not have homes and guide them like Jesus taught us to”. Or at least something of the sort.
I was really expecting a Christmas Eve challenge to go experience poverty, to go see it with physical eyes rather than photographs, but no. Maybe it was my wishful thinking that he would bust down the mental comfort doors of the Cherry Hill Estates. Instead, he said, “When you find yourself being caught up with the “inn” crowd, remember the Christmas joy of your youth and soon enough you’ll be back to the stable. Merry Christmas!”.
What?! Christmas joy makes us connected to God?! My jaw metaphorically smashed through the new pew I was sitting in. He had the perfect setup to put forth the notion that all 300 people in the church that night lived in relative luxury, myself included, and we were all blind to the world that exists 10 minutes down RT. 70 from the church itself.
It has long been evident that Cherry Hill is intolerant to the poor due to the community’s refusal to adhere to it’s affordable housing responsibilities, which are mandated by the State Constitution. But now, maybe it is clear that Cherry Hill remains ideologically intolerant and ignorant to the poorest city in the nation due to a lack of acknowledgment of Camden’s realities in the basic religious constructs within a wealthy community.
I’ll stick to being a one-time-a-year church goer, and a year round Camden volunteer.