At Massachusetts Church, Pastor Has a Congregation Full of “Recovering Christians”

Terrell Hunt, third from left, thanks members at Community of Love Christian Fellowship for their prayers, and Cynthia Ellison, left of Hunt, praises his spiritual growth. (Julie Zauzmer/The Washington Post)
Terrell Hunt, third from left, thanks members at Community of Love Christian Fellowship for their prayers, and Cynthia Ellison, left of Hunt, praises his spiritual growth. (Julie Zauzmer/The Washington Post)

For two years, Terrell Hunt was a Christian without a church.

At the church in the Washington area where he had grown up, Hunt worried that the leaders lectured about good behavior but didn’t act as they preached. He heard members talking badly about one another. One day, a member preaching about toxic habits addressed his sermon to one young woman, causing her to burst into tears in embarrassment. Hunt became convinced this church just wasn’t for him.

Every day, he prayed on his own. He read the Bible. It was a lonely faith.

“It was really, really hard. It made me feel like, if this place isn’t for me, is any place really for me? Am I ever going to feel comfortable again?” said Hunt, 27. “I just felt a really deep sense of hurt.”

That’s when he found Community of Love Christian Fellowship — a church where Hunt joined a community of other lost souls just like him.

Pastor Emmett Price has a term for what a lot of people went through before they came to his congregation: “church hurt.” The term, which refers to the pain sometimes inflicted by religious institutions — a pain that distances sufferers from their communities and from God — is an increasingly prominent topic of discussion among Christian clergy.

Publishers Weekly featured four books on the topic published within a five-month span, with titles including “Wounded in the Church” and “Hurting in the Church.”

In these books and in conversations with fellow clergy, ministers offer a variety of suggestions for treating church hurt. Price goes about this work in a variety of subtle, tangible ways.

He tries to keep his services low on jargon and ritual, opting instead for simple songs and a sermon in the sunny, wood-floored multipurpose room of a larger church in Boston’s unpretentious Allston neighborhood. There’s no hierarchy of deacons at Community of Love, no questions about how long someone has been a Christian or who has or hasn’t been baptized. At the start of every service, Price says, “Welcome to Community of Love Christian Fellowship, where God loves you and we do, too.”

At Community of Love, some members were previously put off by a stuffy or cliquish church. Or maybe they were upset by a pastor who demonized them for their behavior or their family situation or their sexuality. In at least two cases, they were sexually abused by clergy.

One way or another, many were traumatized by the church, the very institution that they had thought would guide and comfort them.

Price, a pastor with a background in African-American Baptist churches who founded this small nondenominational church five years ago, said that sometimes healing comes slowly. He admires the people who return to his church over and over, trying to repair their relationship with religion. “I cry when they are able to call me ‘Pastor,’ ” he said.

Shannon Collins, a member, has heard these stories, too. She called Community of Love a sort of hospital for injured souls.

“It’s not a coincidence that we all ended up here,” she said. “We all got hurt.”

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SOURCE: The Salt Lake Tribune
Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post

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