I have been blessed to have attended some wonderful churches in my life thus far. As a pre-teen and then into my impressionable teen years, I had vibrant youth leaders who poured into my life in very generous ways. They listened, they prayed and they listened some more. And then maybe a little more, because I was a pretty talkative teen. Shocking, right?
In college, I went on to a church that fed me spiritually and provided several opportunities for me to use my gifts and talents within the church community. It was also at this church that I learned you don't have to stay at one church forever. You are allowed to move to a different church in different seasons of life. So I did.
For almost three years, I was a part of a church community that challenged me in ways I had not been to that point. I was part of a community of believers who warmly embraced the student from the university across the street, the foreigner, the homeless, the barren, the struggling, the thriving. It was by no means perfect. No church ever is. But it was as close to perfection as I had ever experienced.
So when I left that church to marry Jason and move to Texas, I guess you could say I had some pretty high standards for the next church I would attend. Ok, I'll be honest. I had ridiculously high standards. In the best way possible, the folks at the delightfully old-fashioned church had spoiled me rotten.
Finding a church home in Texas never became a reality. Even after two years in Abilene, we only marginally attended one particular church on a regular basis. We were perpetual visitors. As you can imagine, this was a particularly difficult thing for me given my church history. I longed for and deeply missed being part of a church community. I mourned the loss of a venue to use my gifts and talents to the glory of God. I yearned for spiritual comradeship alongside the bigger body of Christ.
So now we are in Tennessee. We attended a church this morning, our first one since moving here. It was lovely and we sang more hymns than I have since I left NC. Wonderful, wise, richly worded hymns including the one my students used to sing as a blessing before lunch...
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked opressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to His name: He forgets now His own.
It was a busy day for this church. There were new members to bring in, communion to be served and annual tithing committments to be made. Needless to say, the liturgy of today's service was long and full. And I appreciate that. But I think that once again my expectations were high, my picture of things so idealistic, that there was no way it could come to fruition in the way I had hoped.
After the benediction (Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine...Oh, soothing words for my heart) and as we made our way out of the church building, I realized that not one person had greeted us. No one said a welcome. No one introduced themselves to us. Not one. The liturgy of church came and went and I was no better known than when I had arrived.
So I kind of fell apart in the car. Crocodile tears falling down my cheek like a child whose feelings have been hurt by a best friend. And to tell you the truth, mine had been hurt. But to be fair (and as Jason reminded me) my expectations were pretty high for a first Sunday. As in: I probably shouldn't have expected to make my new best friend within the confines of a very full hour and a half long service.
So we will go back and I will be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is church community.