by Barry Cameron
Someone once said, “The church is not a HOTEL for saints, but a HOSPITAL for sinners.” Unfortunately, even those who work in a hospital often forget why they’re there.
In the movie Patch Adams, (which is based on a true story), Robin Williams played a medical student (Patch) who cares more about people than procedures and protocol. He heads out on a number of experiments to prove his point that people want to be cared for; and when they are, they’ll get better.
In one of the more moving scenes, a group of medical students is following a medical professor on his rounds. They walk up on a woman in a hospital gown lying on a gurney in the hallway. The professor looks at his clipboard and says, “Here we have a juvenile onset diabetic with poor circulation and diabetic neuropathy. As you can see, these are diabetic ulcers with lymphedema and evidence of gangrene. Questions?”
One of the students asks, “Any osteomyelitis?”
“None apparent,” the professor says, “although not definitive treatment. To stabilize the blood sugar, consider antibiotics, possibly amputation.”
The woman lies there, obviously embarrassed and confused as this group of future doctors stares and openly discusses her problems in front of everyone.
All of a sudden someone asks, “What’s her name?” There’s an uncomfortable pause as if something is happening that shouldn’t be happening. The group of third-year medical students back away to reveal the questioner. “I was just wondering the patient’s name,” Patch (Robin Williams) says.
Caught completely off guard, the professor hurriedly struggles to find the patient’s name on his clipboard. Finally he finds it, and with obvious embarrassment says, “Marjorie.”
“Hi, Marjorie,” Patch says, with a warm smile.
“Hi,” Marjorie replies, lifting her head, revealing her own smile of unconcealed surprise and appreciation.
The flustered professor tries to regroup and says, “Yes, thank you. Let’s move on,” and the group walks on down the hall.
Patch Adams was trying to get the faculty and his fellow students to see that people matter and the difference it would make if people were treated with kindness, respect and yes, even love.
We need to see that in the church, too! People matter to God, and they need to matter to us. Have you ever stopped to consider the thousands of names in the Bible, many of which we can’t even pronounce? Ever wonder why they’re there? Because people matter to God. They have names.
Everyone who attends church has a name, too, and we need to care enough about them to find out what it is. I’m not suggesting that any of us know everyone’s name. In many congregations, that would be virtually impossible. What I am saying is everyone needs to be known by someone, and that is easily attainable.
Name tags help, and we should use more of them in as many settings as we can. But the most effective method is simply to ask, “What’s your name?” Every person who attends a church service or activity ought to have the privilege of hearing someone say their name … every time they come. It’s true, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And it begins with caring enough to know their name.
We need to commit ourselves to making sure our church is a place where people matter more than programs, procedures or protocol. After all, what could be worse than lying in a hospital gown on a gurney in a hallway somewhere with people talking about you and your problems? How about being in a church where no one knows your name and no one really cares?
Let’s make it our goal to be a church where people know they matter. Let’s communicate loud and clear to everyone who comes: You matter to God and you matter to us!
When we do, like Patch Adams, we’ll make ’em smile.