Embracing the Journey ~Janet Richey
It is 10:30 on a Sunday morning and I am sitting at a red light that refuses to change colors. I just walked out of a church service, like a prison break, except that no one would even notice I was gone. It was a particularly lonely church service because the congregation was celebrating their 25th year together. While people got up on stage and professed their love and devotion for one another, I scanned the room and counted on one hand the number of people who actually knew me. After five years of attendance, I still wasn’t part of the family. It was the last in a series of churches I attended over the twenty years I lived in the region, each one feeling less welcoming than the one before. “Lord, I am not running away from You,” I cried, “I’m running away from the church.”
As sure as the sound of Chris Tomlin’s voice singing through my Christian radio station, I heard something ask “What’s the difference?”
Clearly, God was not letting me off that easily.
Oh, they were all biblically sound churches, with members dedicated to outreach and bringing people into the fold, but why did I always feel like the new kid trying to find a seat in the cafeteria? Having a laundry list of character flaws that would blow up my word count, I could easily forgive them for keeping me at arms-length. Treating my kids with the same wariness has taken a bit longer.
Meanwhile, back at the traffic light, I sent a text to my friend, who knew all of the ugly details of my encounters with organized religion. It’s a loose paraphrase, but it went something like this:
Me: I just walked out of church service. Not sure if I’m ever going back.
Friend: My husband and I would love for you to join us at our church.
Me: But that’s on the other side of the river.
Friend: Janet, you’re running out of churches on your side.
Me: Do they make you shake hands with people at the beginning of service?
Friend: You’ll be fine.
I know a non-answer when I see one.
At this point it’s a solo adventure; the kids are out on their own. Maybe that made it easier to drive outside my ten-mile radius, and flee from the homogeneous churches which I was oddly so comfortable with.
Make no mistake, this church was different. And that didn’t mean I liked it.
I didn’t like the drive. I didn’t particularly like the music, but the biggest hurdle, embarrassingly, was embracing the cultural diversity that is common for an urban church.
And yet, I stuck around. And it went deeper than a simple curiosity. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the solid biblical teaching that the pastoral staff poured out with loving authority and authenticity. I had no idea how thirsty I was for it until it was given to me.
Even with my quirky personality, failed attempts at ministry and a global pandemic, I felt God wanted me there, committed. Five years, almost to the day, I became a member of this beautiful church that I once deemed unworthy to cross a bridge for. I was finally a part of a family that oozed with grace and unconditional love. I was home.
This isn’t a fluff piece on a wonderful church; it’s about sticking around long enough to find one.
From the painful slatted benches of my dad’s church, to a decade-long dry spell of not attending at all, and then the buffet of evangelical-ish churches I endured through most of my adulthood, God was planting seeds. Worshipping God in an unfriendly environment taught me a valuable lesson in steadfastness and pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Learning about the differing theologies taught me about discernment, and opened my eyes to some long-held beliefs that were actually NOT biblical. And at the risk of throwing humility out the window, maybe…just maybe…my presence has taught a few lessons to the people who could not look past whatever my flaws were.
Check your biases. Check the statement of faith. Allow yourself to get uncomfortable, pray through it all. But whatever you do, keep showing up.
By: Janet Richey (from Living Water Community Church)