How prostitutes found church in a local butcher shop

Lately at Sanctuary we have been noticing how a simple greeting at church can open someone's heart to God. It's about treating a visitor with respect. Today I want to follow that train of thought with a story from Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor. It involves a butcher shop, a group of prostitutes, and church.

Peterson grew up in Montana, and his father was a butcher. As young Eugene learned the trade in his adolescent years, the butcher shop became an apprenticeship in the intersection of grace and relationships. Peterson writes,
That butcher shop was my introduction to the world of congregation, which in a few years would be my workplace as a pastor. The people who came into our shop were not just customers. Something else defined them. It always seemed more like a congregation than a store. My father in his priestly robe greeted each person by name and knew many of their stories. (p. 39)
The real test of this and any congregation is how they treat the town's "undesirables."
Two blocks away on a side street there was a brothel. There was always a good bit of talk on the street of the whores and the cathouse and the red-light district that was a blight on the street. But not in our place: when these women entered our premises, they were treated with the dignity of their Christian names. I remember three of them: Mary, Grace, Veronica. When they left with their purchases, there was no gossipy moralism trailing in their wake. They were in a safe place. Sometimes the women would telephone their order and ask for a delivery. I was always the delivery boy. When I brought the packages, they always knew my name and treated me the way they themselves had been treated in the butcher shop, not as a customer, which I would guess is how most of the people who came up the stairs to their rooms were treated, but as a named person. (p. 39)
I would venture a guess that most of the gossip about the ladies from the brothel was perpetuated by people who went to church every Sunday. But as I wrote last week, there is a vast difference between church and church. The former happens all over town every week. The latter happens when our gatherings and interactions are marked by the Spirit of Jesus. That would be the same Jesus who demanded that ladies of the night receive respect and an open invitation to enjoy God's grace. Around Jesus' circles, the tongues that wagged were those of the most religious people in town who thought the whores should be kept away from God unless they cleaned themselves up. 

I would also venture a guess that Mary, Grace, Veronica, and their coworkers didn't darken the doorstep of the local churches. Instead, these ladies found church in the local butcher shop -- a place that never held a single Sunday service.

Peterson concludes,
Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where a person is labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name. A place where dignity is conferred. (p. 40)
Peterson's story liberates church from being walled in by ecclesiastical buildings and officiated by ordained ministers. Church is strikingly simple. It starts with welcoming the presence of Jesus -- and there is never a place where he is not ready to act. It means treating people with dignity. We look into their faces. We learn their names. We not only listen to their stories but show actual interest in them as people. These simple actions create space for God to do his life-changing work. From the Peterson butcher shop we learn that there is no one who can stop church from happening any place, any time. 


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