Much of my childhood was spent in church. I was raised in Massachusetts and we were devoted members of a Congregational church that dated back to 1712. The building was so puritan in its design that there was no back entrance – the doors to the sanctuary were on either side of the pulpit, so you faced the entire congregation as you entered.
No sneaking in late. That’s accountability.
Still, it was a fairly liberal church in most of its views, part of the United Church of Christ that in 2004 would gain international attention by trying to buy network TV time with an advertisement that said, “Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We.” The spot included the image of a same-sex couple. CBS refused to air the commercial.
Of course as a child you don’t know if you’re attending a liberal or conservative church. It’s just church.
I would learn as I grew up that not all churches are alike, and many interpreted the Bible in a way that was completely foreign to me – promoting exclusion, intolerance, and even hate. Some, like the Westboro Baptist Church, have made hate their central tenet.
As it turns out, pretty interesting ones – in ways that are so San Francisco. It’s a hipster church. And a start-up. Yes, like a tech start-up.
To report the story I sat in on four worship services held on two different Sundays, plus interviewed church members, the pastor, religion experts, and researched affiliated faiths. I also spoke to people who don’t belong to the church but share space in the same building to try to find out if there was any “weird” scuttlebutt about Ikon. (There wasn’t.)
Then on my last visit to the church something horrific happened.
As I was leaving there was a commotion outside. A Muni bus on Mission Street had run over a pedestrian. An elderly security guard, later identified as 71-year-old Manuel Tomaneng, was pinned beneath the bus’s center wheel, his leg crushed flat.
Church members ran into the street and dove under the bus to Tomaneng. He was alive. Breathing.
Nothing could be done. The bus was huge — a tandem vehicle of two compartments – that could not be lifted. Tomaneng’s life was slipping away. Most people stepped back. It was all too gruesome. Too disturbing.
But the Ikon church members stayed with the man, under that bus, offering him the comfort of their presence, the touch of humanity in a moment where the harsh reality of city streets had claimed yet another life.
That’s the Christianity I remember.