A picture of the marquee at Wantagh Memorial Community Church (Long Island, New York) reached the top of a social media website called Reddit. For context: Reddit’s user base is big. Really big. In the last 30 days, it was the 4th most popular website in the country and 16th most popular website in the world, getting about a million unique visitors per day. Reddit’s content is 100% user-submitted, and users then vote on content to decide its fate (think a virtual “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” system). Wantagh’s sign received 89,000 “upvotes” and, for a short but powerful moment, the sign was as viral as you can get.
This is fascinating, considering Reddit is decidedly non-religious and often atheist. Frankly, the sign’s success is a bit of a miracle.
In some ways, I get it. I was not raised in the church.
I attended Black Forest Community UCC for a few years as a kid, but I didn’t really want to go. My parents didn’t either, but my grandparents attended, and we Kiblers are a guilty people.
Then, to my 12-year-old horror, my mom sent me to La Foret, a UCC summer camp in Black Forest, Colorado. As a surly, oddly shaped, hormonal adolescent, I expected to be bullied, or at best, ignored. I was NOT going to sing. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” Seriously? No thanks, I don’t feel well.
And then, to my dismay, I loved it. For the first time, my peers welcomed me into their conversations and invited me to play sports (poorly). I was shocked to see other campers safely share emotions. The adults asked questions without prescribing answers. I couldn’t believe it. From then on, I attended every single camp I could, and returned to volunteer as an adult. Now, at 34, I work for the Rocky Mountain Conference—UCC. So, you could say camp had an effect on me.
It’s not lost on me that it could have gone differently. If not for that first camp, I may well have grown into a surly, resentful adult, forever questioning my own worth and place in this world. What’s most rattling is that for many, this is reality. Unlike me, who got lucky, they never experienced the UCC’s radical welcome. They don’t truly feel worthy of being loved or included. Many of them are angry or jaded or both.
Over several years of non-scientific research, I have discovered that many of these same angry, jaded people are on the Internet.
Maybe the Reddit post convinced someone to check out a UCC church. That’s a nice thought. But at the very least, it briefly affirmed the million people who logged in that day and clicked the top post. What could be better than telling a million people at once that they deserve unending grace and kindness?
May we always hold the welcome sign up high for anyone who would look, and the door wide open for anyone who would enter. May they always know we are Christians by our love.
Cory Kibler is the Director of Communications Ministries with the Rocky Mountain Conference—UCC in Denver, CO. He loves music, books, his family, and going outside. He tells a lot of zingers.