today, we went to church. it seems strange that we hadn’t been in so long, both of us being pretty church-y people, but after – well, everything – we had a hard time with church. the evangelical churches aren’t exactly a safe place for a family like ours, and my trusty presbyterian church, while accepting and welcoming and affirming as a denomination was chock full of hard relationships. we’d visited a handful of other churches, but the truth is that church shopping is exhausting at best and can be downright disastrous at worst. add eight children to the mix and it becomes impossible.
our kids settled in to the youth group at the presbyterian church, and we are so thankful for that. it has been a steadying force for them and they have formed important friendships there. they have important conversations about the world, jesus, themselves…it really has been a blessing to them.
i guess we just got…comfortable. comfortable with the kids having a place, comfortable with sleeping in on sunday mornings, comfortable with not church shopping. we’d talk about it sometimes – “i wish we had a church.” “we should go try this church or that one.” and then we just didn’t…for a lot of reasons.
listen, i love church. i do. i’ve been convinced that god is real since i sat in the sanctuary as a 4 year old thinking that our head pastor was god himself. i experienced god in really tangible ways when, as an 11 year old, my mom died and i navigated that grief with our brand new youth pastor who wasn’t quite sure what she’d gotten herself into. i felt god move over and over again at our middle-of-nowhere church camp – scattered in a field under the stars with only the light from our candles, huddled around a campfire singing songs i still remember the words to, at vespers on top of the mountain, and late at night in cabin two with the best friends i’ve ever had.
i have really amazing church memories, and i (still) really love jesus.
(there’s always a but, isn’t there?)
the church is made up of people, and sometimes people get it wrong (really, really wrong in ways that are so damaging). people can be terrible. church people can be especially terrible, twisting the bible to fit whatever interpretation they have deemed correct and then hiding behind it to justify their terrible-ness.
it’s easy to take the hurt caused by the people of the church and make it about the church or god or some combination of those three things. and i guess that’s what happened and why we needed a break from church. when you are hurt by something that is supposed to be safe – it’s a different kind of healing that has to happen before you’re ready to put yourself in that position again…to open yourself up for possibly more hurt.
but today we did.
we visited the sweetest country church, and it was like walking in to a family gathering. people were milling around talking about their weeks, and we had barely taken our seats before introductions were made, smiles and names exchanged, and conversations started. y’all…if you want to fall in love with a church, go to a small town and find a welcoming little church with weird stained glass and artificial flowers. find a place where, during morning announcements, someone in the congregation points out that wanda in the choir celebrated a birthday yesterday and the entire church breaks into singing “happy birthday” to her. go to a church where mom hugs are the norm, where they love their community, believe in justice, eat together, pray together, and welcome visitors with open arms.
jesus met me at that little church today, and he reminded me that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that there’s no guarantee we won’t get hurt by the people of the church, that he loves us whether we’re at church or not, and that there’s something really magical about a community of people gathered together to love, pray for, and honor each other.
i don’t know where our church journey will lead us, but i’m glad we went today.
happy birthday, wanda. and happy anniversary, mr. and mrs. lewis. thanks for being so kind and welcoming, sheila, marlene, adele, bob, jim, adam, and everybody else whose names i’ve forgotten. ouita, thank you for inviting us (and for the best hugs).