At the beginning of September I started a brand new adventure: I moved into my own little apartment. It’s really the perfect little set up for me. I have a cute little place in my aunt and uncle’s basement. For a girl who didn’t grow up with family around (other than my brothers and parents) I am absolutely loving having my aunt and uncle and two little cousins upstairs. It’s been one of those sweet gifts from the Lord, which only He could have arranged. In light of this new move I’ve been on the hunt for a church that is a little closer to my neck of the woods. I’ve recently found one that I really like so far; it’s actually the church that my Mom found the Lord in so it’s kind of neat being there. The only thing is that I only know two people, my Mom’s cousin and his wife, who luckily feel as close as if they were actually my aunt and uncle. Other than that, I know no one. Not one single soul.
Before my family moved to Wainfleet, I spent the first 4 years of my life living in Stouffville, where my Dad was the youth pastor at the Stouffville Missionary Church (now called East Ridge). Then we moved to Wainfleet where my Dad became the lead pastor of the Wainfleet BIC Church for about 19 years. Now he’s in a role where he helps to lead other pastors. So sufficient to say, I was born into the church. I’ve always belonged, even when I may not have felt like I did. I’ve always known pretty much everyone at church and vice versa, and I’ve always been overly involved in church life, being the social butterfly that I am. I’ve never understood what it really feels like to not belong.
I wake up on Sunday morning and decide that I’m going to do it; I’m going to go to a new church. So I get ready, hop in my car and find the place. I walk in to the church, it’s fairly large and the service has just begun. There are people everywhere. Where do I sit? I look around acting like I’m looking for someone so the usher doesn’t suspect that I’m actually terrified because I came here alone. I walk up the aisle and choose a seat. I feel like people are looking at me because I’m alone. Do they wonder if I’m a Christian? Maybe they pity me because I’m alone?
I can’t even sing, I feel sick. Should I stay? Of course I should stay, if my experience is that bad by the end of the morning, I just won’t come back.
Is this what it feels like? Have I become the target for “church hospitality”? I can’t be, I’m already “saved”. But, maybe I’m still a so-called “target”.
The tables in my head for a moment: you say you welcome new people, here’s your chance, prove it!
The service continues. There’s a guest speaker. Why is there always a guest speaker when you’re trying to get a feel for a “regular Sunday”?
The service ends and I’m frozen in my seat. What should I do? Leave? Go to the guest centre? I hate this, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
Everyone is visiting. The young people are all crowded together. People are having coffee, kids are running around, there’s laughter. No one seems like they’re in a rush to leave. I like that, it reminds me of my childhood. Could I belong here?
I can’t escape the feeling like it’s a club and I’m not part of it.
I feel completely rescued when my Mom’s cousin and his wife somehow recognize me and chat for a while. They both hug me and I feel so relieved, there’s nothing like family. After they leave, I decide to go to the newcomers table. I meet a lovely lady, who knows my parents, small world. She talks to me for a while and introduces me to her husband and son. We have more mutual friends that we talk about for a while. I ask about small groups and college and careers. She says it’s happening right now, if I want to go.
Um, no, well, um, maybe next time. Maybe you can show me where it is and maybe next week I’ll try to go.
After a quick tour I make my exit. My first Sunday impression is good, I think I’ll go back next week and maybe go to the College and Careers group.
I do indeed go back the following week. I walk to where I think the College and Careers meet. I don’t see anyone. I can’t escape the feeling of the club again. There’s people running around, they look at me but no one says anything. I feel lost. Maybe I shouldn’t go this week, it’s too soon. What if I get there and it turns out to be the “I just graduated from high school” type of college and career group? There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just not in that zone anymore. I wait for a few minutes. I feel like a total idiot. I’m leaving.
I book it out of there. I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Is it this hard to belong somewhere? What happens when I actually meet people, people that have probably known each other for years and have histories together and inside jokes and stories only they know? Will they welcome me? Will I feel safe and accepted?
I become introverted in these situations. I can’t help it.
You say you want me to come but do you really want that? Do you really want to know my story? Is there actually room for me here?
Do you know how much courage it took for me to walk through those doors, to sit in your gym, to fill out a visitor card?
Because before now, I didn’t know.
Because I’ve always been in the club.
Even though it’s terribly uncomfortable, I’m thankful that I’m experiencing what it’s like to not belong, to be new and to come alone. I’m thankful because I want to believe that it’s these kind of experiences that shape how you lead, how you really learn to create a welcoming space, how you become a person that makes people feel safe and accepted. I don’t want to forget that sometimes just parking your car and getting up the nerve to walk into the building takes courage. And I don’t want to forget that maybe there are people that will walk through those doors and leave feeling like they’ll never be part of the club, so what’s the point?
But most of all, I don’t want to forget the message that I think Jesus himself would say to anyone who feels forgotten, invisible or alone:
You are not.
So I’m thanking the Lord for new experiences that are giving me new clarity and perspective. And I’m praying for courage to try and meet some new people in a new and unfamiliar place.
And just maybe I’ll find out that it’s not a club after all.