If I received ten dollars every time someone said to me, “The roof will fall in if I come to church.” I’d have no fear for the future finances of the little congregations that I care for.

I hear the statement many times every year during my work as a minister, or when people chat with me over a beer, by the fire, knowing I am a minister.

Often people say it to me while responding to something I’ve written or said. Sometimes, it’s because of something that has been happening in their lives or those they love. Somehow, the implied next step forward involves going to church. I’m not sure why this is the perception people make but they do, and their defensive response is, “The roof will fall in…”

I actually raised the issue with one of my colleagues who knows a lot more about the workings of the church hierarchy, to see if we couldn’t get a special clause inserted into our insurance policy for such an occurrence. Something like “This church building and its contents, including injury to other people in attendance, are insured for damage in the event of the roof falling in because unworthy persons enter the building.”

The problem with my suggestion is that the insurance companies are bound to see such an event as an “Act of God” and therefore will refuse to cover it. The term “Acts of God” refers to events that are beyond human control and are not caused by any human activity. Examples of such events include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural catastrophes.

When an insurance policy includes an “Acts of God” clause, it means that the insurer will not be responsible for covering losses or damages resulting from these specific events. The rationale behind this clause is that insurers cannot reasonably predict or prevent such occurrences, so they are considered inevitable and unavoidable force. If a church roof did fall in because one of these people walking in, I think insurance companies would call it an “Act of God” because such an occurrence could not be explained rationally. By the way, the comment that the roof would fall in if certain people entered a church portrays terrible theology. It represents a view of God that I find abhorrent and do not accept as valid. But that is for another day.

And then there are funeral services. These are apparently an exception to the rule because often the funerals I conduct are for “The roof will fall in…” people and also, large numbers of my “roof will fall in” people attend such funerals without any catastrophes occurring.

Invariably, when I am asked to conduct the funeral for someone like this, I am struck by their life story. No, I am moved by their life story. I am saddened that I didn’t know them more and I believe the church was the poorer for them not being part of the worshipping community. I find myself saying without qualification, “This was a good person. Not perfect but good. You would have liked to have known them better. You were privileged to have been loved by them. And God loves them!

The person didn’t need to come to church but the church was poorer for their absence, and I believe the person would have found their lives enriched as well.

We live in an economically driven culture which strives to make us feel less than enough without this or that product or new thing they are trying to sell us.

Too often in life, we find ourselves surrounded by people who bring us down, constantly criticising and belittling us. This can make us question our worth, even when, deep down, we know that we are valuable and loveable.

It can feel like we’re failing even when we’re succeeding. The solution to these negative influences isn’t just surrounding ourselves with people who constantly praise us or sugar-coat everything. It is about finding people equal to us, who are both generous and honest. People who are broken, people who are recovering from the trials of life, people who are feeding their soul with words and ideas that affirm life.

Jesus’ love for the outsiders, often described as the “tax collectors and sinners”, is a constant refrain in the Gospel stories. He ate and drank in their homes. He told stories about them in order to provide models of Christian behaviour, for example, the good Samaritan; examples of how to pray: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” and he recruited them into his inner circle of followers.

The only time the roof fell in on one of Jesus’ gatherings was when Jesus was teaching in a house that was so crowded, no-one else could enter via the door. Some people had brought along a friend who was paralysed in the hope that Jesus might heal him. When they couldn’t get inside using the door, they went up to the roof.  “They removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.” (Mark 2:4)

That is the only time the roof fell in. It was not an “Act of God”, but what happened after that was. And it was good news!

Brian Spencer, Minister, Waranga Uniting Churches.