This is what I mean by those words: I slip in just before the service starts, taking one of the aisle seats in the back of the church. Conversations bubble up around me, between people who have known each other for years; I stay silent. The service starts and I sing and pray with the rest of them, but I doodle during the sermon, and read the bulletin during the announcements. During joys and concerns I flip through the hymnal finding my next page.
When the time comes to pass the peace, I stay in my row. I shake hands with the people in front of me, behind me, next to me (if I'm not alone in my row). And then I sit back down, while the permanent parishioners wander in and out of every aisle, greeting everyone they know. At the end of the service, I slip out the side aisle. I shake hands with the pastor if there's not too much of a line, but otherwise I duck around the chatty folks and head straight for my car without stopping by the fellowship hour.
In short, I step aside from the community aspect of the service.
And I know this goes against everything that church is supposed to be.
This is not to say that I ignore people entirely. I greet people who pass the peace when they wander toward me. I smile at kids as they fidget in their seats or try to zoom past me after worship, the faster to get to the cookies. Lately, though, these brief interactions have been all that I can handle. Since coming to California I've been looking for a church home with varying amounts of success. I know I'm not alone in this. Juggling life transitions and coming into Most of my friends graduating from college have experienced something similar—in the midst of a church that's changing, and in the midst of a life that's changing, it can be exhausting.
For me, it's been tricky to make sense of what church means to me now, as an adult and not a child, as a wife and partner and not an ecclesiastical free agent. I've supported my partner in faith transitions and struggled with my own call to ministry. And I've stumbled into churches that were on the verge of collapse, found myself in the middle of turf wars that I didn't know how to fight.
I was tired. And so I took a "church sabbatical." I prayed the psalms alone in my room, and slept in Sunday mornings.
|Source: khrawlings on Flickr|
But after a couple of months of that, I started to get antsy. I started to crave the bread and the wine, the words and the music.
Learning about the Reformation and different views on the Eucharist, I remember hearing that this gathered community was one of the things many reformers insisted upon. A priest saying Mass alone in his room, they said, was not really Mass at all. If the bread and the wine hold meaning, if they hold something I need, then the gathered community is part of what gives them that very meaning. How can I come to be filled by the bread and wine but stay on the sidelines of the community?
Here we pray some prayers I've never heard before, and some I'm starting to forget—my tongue tangles on the words I used to know by heart. And for other prayers just hearing them makes me feel like I've come home. "O God, our times are in your hand," I say, along with everyone else, while the birthday boy in a Transformers t-shirt scuffs his feet and trying to pretend that he's too cool for this blessing, with a smile flashing toward his eyes that belies his devil-may-care attitude.
I am part of community. I am held and I am welcomed. Even if I can't handle the next step right now.
That gives me hope: drive-thru communion is only a resting-place, it is not an end. It's not a place I intend to remain. Two years into this church-searching journey, I have some idea of what comes next: saying a shy hello to someone who looks young or friendly or welcoming. Wandering over to the fellowship hall, standing around the edges of conversations already begun, sipping my tea. Perhaps then I'll move to sitting down at a table, starting up a conversation of my own. This starts to open up the scary parts of community—being accepted, accepting, getting ready for expectations and the possibility of hopes broken or denied.
Right now those are still far off.
I'm dipping my toe into the waters. And if I stopped here, planned to sneak out the side exit every week—I'd be missing out for sure. But for now I remind myself of the feast that waits for me. I got up on Sunday and came to church. I received the bread and the wine, I sang the Gloria and the Doxology. I received the peace from people I've never met. Maybe my body will remember, next week or the week after. Soon I will come home.
This post's been sitting in my queue for several months now... because by the time I revised it and got it ready to post, I realized it didn't quite apply to me any more. Drive-thru communion has slowly been replaced by coffee hour chats, potluck brunches, even Lenten soup suppers. I'm starting to talk about "my church" again. But I'm still thankful for people who welcomed me into the back pew and let me take things slow. And I hope in our conversations about the exodus of young adults from the church, we can make space for wanderers like me.