April 3, 2016

Church - Who Needs It

For my husband and I, Sundays are usually pretty laid back. We wake up leisurely and have coffee, then breakfast. Sometimes we watch CBS Sunday Morning like I did with my grandparents on weekends spent with them during my childhood (of course, it's not the same without Charles Kuralt). Occasionally, I use Sundays to get caught up on work or other projects.

When we moved into our house, we were blessed with some free furniture that exceeded our living room's capacity, so we've turned our small one-car garage into a sitting room of sorts. I sit out there from time to time with the garage door open, working on the computer or reading a good book.

I was doing just that Sunday morning. My husband had poured me a fresh cup of coffee and I had settled in for some leisurely Pinterest browsing while he ran an errand. Imagine my surprise when a member of the church across the street came up the driveway with an invitation to their monthly potluck lunch. He said his church holds a potluck one Sunday each month and today was it. Would we like to come and eat with them?

We've been invited to eat with them before, when we first moved into our house. We were still unpacking and had plans later that day so we politely declined. Today though, I couldn't think of any excuse not to go. I was wearing sweats and my hair was in a ponytail, so I quickly ran into the house to change and freshen up.

The church is one I consider to be a more traditional denomination and I figured the ladies probably wore skirts. I didn't want to make a bad first impression, especially when I was only showing up to eat. So I threw on a maxi dress and pulled my hair into a bun.

Walking across the street toward the church, I thought to myself "What am I doing?" It's a little nerve-wracking to visit a new church for the first time, especially a small congregation where you can't really get lost in the crowd. Will they think I'm weird? Will they think I'm only here for the free food? Will they wonder why we haven't visited before now? All these questions were running through my head.

Both my husband and I grew up attending church regularly. My family was Baptist and his, Methodist. The Sundays of my childhood were mostly the same...early mornings, getting dressed up in our finest and heading to the big Baptist church downtown. First, there would be Sunday school, taught by older folks who had memorized the scriptures frontwards and backwards. We'd read from our lessons and put our offering nickels and pennies into the small envelope for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong.

Then we'd head to big church, with the adults. I'd sit quietly, drawing pictures on the back of the bulletin as long as my dad couldn't see. After my younger brother had aged out of the church nursery, he came to big church too. My mom placated him with plastic baggies filled with snacks. I always felt so jealous of the snacks but I was older and could be expected to sit quietly through the service, even if I didn't understand most of what it was about.

After church, my parents, brother and I would head to my great-grandparents' house out in the country for a big meal with the rest of our family. The kids would change into our play clothes and spend the afternoon running around the yard, while the adults napped or gossiped, catching up on what was going in each other's lives.

Since my husband and I have been married, we've never attended church together other than when we visit my parents and go with them. We've talked about visiting various churches in town, and yet somehow Sunday rolls around and we never do. I guess I figured when the time was right, it would happen. We believe in God and talk freely about our faith. But I've never really thought that being in a church building was completely necessary.

Sunday, visiting the small church across the road, I got a taste of what we've been missing. It wasn't a fancy lunch served on fine china. But I filled up my Styrofoam plate more than once. The congregation was small, with probably not more than 25 or 30 people in attendance. When I arrived, the women were in the church's galley kitchen preparing the food, and they genuinely welcomed me, asking questions and making introductions to make me feel like I was part of the group.

When the last covered dish atop the long plastic folding table had been uncovered, the members gathered to form a line. One began to sing and everyone joined in, a song of blessing over the food and the fellowship.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Growing up, I always loved singing the Doxology at our big Baptist church. All those voices joined together, reverberating off the walls in the massive, soaring sanctuary...it was like I knew God could really hear us.

But Sunday, in that small room with those kind, unassuming faces smiling at me, I felt community. My eyes teared up, and I thought to myself "This is what belonging feels like."

The conversation over lunch wasn't about doctrine or church politics, but instead turned to things like how one church member had taken up bike riding as a way to get rid of his knee pain. We covered the gamut from troubled kids (a couple members were teachers and shared some war stories of their experiences) as well as how many of the ladies of the church are apparently smitten with Korean dramas, including a show called Coffee Prince (which I was told might be too much for me to start my K drama education).

Church is not about committees or whether you have a rock and roll band or just an out-of-tune piano. It's not about whether you have the Ten Commandments painted on the wall, or if you worship in a grand sanctuary where the light streams in through brilliant stained glass windows.

It's about people. And coming together. Finding a connection that trumps all our differences and disagreements. Sometimes the ones who feel like they don't need church can benefit from it most. That was me Sunday.

Back at home, my once hot cup of coffee was right where I left it, although it was cold. But I didn't care. My heart was full.