Slightly hard of hearing in his Sunday suit and tie, the smiling usher boomed a greeting into the cold and cavernous narthex.
“You forgot to set your clocks ahead, right?”
Immediately, the disjointed pieces of that chaotic Sunday morning fell into place. The full parking lot, the prevailing hush — yes, we were an hour late for church, which meant we had arrived just in time for the sermon conclusion and the last amen. Wearing our awkwardness like ill-fitting choir robes, we exited as discretely as two people wearing dress shoes can manage in an echoing church entryway, and we rode in silence across town to our tiny apartment on Middle Street — an address that had become an accurate and stinging summary of our entire lives in that season.
A career change for my husband had put our workplaces over two hours apart, but we’d cheerfully split the difference and settled in neutral territory exactly half way between, telling ourselves it was temporary and a good test of our independence within this new marriage of ours. No friends, no family, no church ties anchored us in this new home base, but we were optimistic, so . . .
Let the church hunt begin!
Throughout that autumn and winter, we visited a dizzying array of Sunday morning worship services. We sat on cushioned pews and on folding chairs. We sang 90s era praise choruses and traditional anthems from tattered hymnals. We visited churches where we came and went unnoticed and unwelcomed, and we cringed under the scrutiny of probing questions about our “intentions” and hints that it was time for us to join and get busy.
By the time of our early spring visit to The Church of the Booming Narthex, we had worn ourselves pretty thin. More and more often, we would open our eyes on Sunday morning and say, “Let’s go visit your folks this weekend.” We wanted to worship in a place that felt like home, but the process seemed endless and hopeless.
Fast forward to the present moment, and that season of uprooted-ness reads like a story out of someone else’s life. Furthermore, the past twenty years of joyful ministry and membership with a loving church family could easily put me in the judgment seat over this tale of a young, newly-married couple playing “church roulette” for over a year. Thankfully, the memory of Middle Street living has endured, and it keeps me from wagging my boney church-lady finger.
Yes, we probably were looking for the “perfect church,” and yes, we definitely had commitment issues, but even in those pre-Google, search-the-yellow-pages days, there was nothing simple about cold canvassing a city and its surrounding area for a friendly and compatible church. It’s far too easy to get caught in a never-ending research phase or to cave in to pressure to “hurry up and settle.” I wish we had made a very short list of non-negotiables and that we had been more aware of the masterful way God uses imperfect people and places in His process of conforming us toward the perfect image of His Son.
Those endless months of Sunday morning upheaval were foundational to my desire today to be the one who extends the welcome, however imperfectly. Scribbling names in my planner when I meet someone new at church sometimes helps me to remember them, but I still might greet repeat visitors as if they were new. (No one has ever complained.) I want to pay attention, be available, respect boundaries, and most of all, I never want to forget what it felt like to be rootless.
We really do need each other in our living out of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Christians who are living in the on-ramp toward faithful church attendance and those of us who are standing along the way cheering them forward are both in a unique position to put the beauty and uniqueness of God’s love on display. Finding community can be a long and challenging process, but the rewards are worth the wait.
Robert Frost wrote a poem in which he calls home “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Because I have been “taken in” so faithfully, it’s now a joy to persevere in the work of making my own church home feel like home to others. Community is the sandpaper by which we find ourselves continually being re-made and re-formed, for the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings for home.
Community is the sandpaper by which we find ourselves continually being re-made and re-formed. -@MicheleDMorin: Click To Tweet