Sunday Schooled, Part 2: A Month (or Three) of Sundays

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A little while ago I wrote about wanting to find a new church home, and my first experience in a long time of attending a church where no one knew me. I’d planned to attend the first candidate for a month to see what it was like, and ended up going for closer to three months.

I’m continuing to learn you can think a place is great and still not think it’s a good fit for you.

I try very hard to recognize the difference between “this is not good” and “this is not to my taste.” For example, when it comes to music I tend to enjoy neither opera nor screamo (for several of the same reasons actually), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. It can be tempting to dismiss something we don’t enjoy as not worth enjoying, as though we need to convince everyone else to justify or elevate our own tastes.

Another attitude I am less successful at curbing is being in “critic” mode when experiencing something a) I also do myself and b) no one has asked me to critique. I wasn’t as aware of this tendency until I started regularly attending civic theater performances and was seated next to some folks who fancied themselves “theater people.” And who knows – maybe they really were. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they bothered to attend when, judging from their ceaseless chatter during performances, local talent was never going to live up to their expectations. Apparently there is an exactly correct way to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

Of course the things we dislike in others are often things we dislike in ourselves, and upon some introspection it turns out I’m quite the unsolicited critic of spoken-word poetry, font use, and church services. But any more I try not to be.

So when I say this church may not be for me, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be for anyone, or even that it’s doing anything wrong.

The weekly message is on point and expertly delivered. The music is carefully curated and performed well. The pastors lead and speak with a mix of Biblical knowledge and humility I can embrace. And they may be actual mind readers because the things I didn’t like about how they served communion the first time I had it there were all remedied the second time a few short weeks later.

And yet…

I’ve been there at least eight times and no one has greeted me except at the door. This may be an intentional choice; many people don’t want to be invited to chair a bake sale (or even to stand as a visitor) the moment they dip a toe into the waters of a new congregation. As an adult, I recognize that I also have a responsibility to initiate conversations if I want to have them, but I am a lousy networker when I’m not on my home territory. You only have to open a conversational door a slight crack for me to find a way in, but I’m very unlikely to knock on a closed one. The pastors offer genuine invitations for anyone new to say hello after service, and while I am not at all intimidated by public speaking, I am anxious about introducing myself one-on-one. That’s my issue – not the church’s – so I’m not offended that no one has introduced themselves and I’m fully aware it could be remedied if I sucked it up and did something uncomfortable (I mean I have to do it all the time) … but after many weeks without a hello my gut isn’t convinced this is where I want to expend that type of energy.

To be fair the congregation does have opportunities for interaction. Most of them appear on the church’s two Facebook groups – one general forum and one specifically for invitations to group activities. The one with invitations (varying from local musical performances to trying new restaurants to in-home conversations) seems to get good responses. But again, this isn’t a great fit for me. Though there is a book study I have expressed interest in, showing up without a task or purpose to join a group of people I don’t know (and who likely already know each other) causes me a lot of stress. And maybe it’s just my age but relying on Facebook instead of potlucks doesn’t appeal to me.

At this point you may be thinking … “Um, aren’t these your issues?”

Absolutely they are. As a matter of fact, writing this has made me aware I have some serious tendencies toward introversion even though I can put on a chicken costume and dance on busy street corners to attract attention for a fund raiser (true story).

This church doesn’t need to do anything differently to accommodate me. It’s doing good work that seems to be a good fit for many people. Given time it might turn out to be a place I could call my church home. Maybe it would be a challenging and safe place for me to work through my anxieties about meeting other people. I might grow into it. Or out of it. But at this moment, the fit is off. There doesn’t have to be something wrong (and more importantly I don’t have to try to convince myself or anyone else there’s something wrong) with a place because it might not be for me.

So for now I’m going to view it as a non-denominational opera which I’m happy other people – many of whom I admire for their ability to appreciate it – can enjoy. In the meantime, I’m going to check out that Methodist club down the road for a month or so to find out if they’re playing a tune I can groove to.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Schooled, Part 2: A Month (or Three) of Sundays

  1. Hey Joe! While you’re heading down the road and checking out new stuff, please do drop in on my spiritual home for the last 19 years! http://www.nileswestside.org
    I feel like i’m in your debt for the blessings you’ve been piling on me in your sharing, and I would love to meet you in the fer-real flesh, shake your hand and worship with you!
    I know, I know. We Seventh-day Adventists are weird and strange and worship on Saturday. But really we’re just a harmless, often-prickly, sometimes-loving bunch of messed up, broken sinners from diverse circumstances and walks of life who have the audacity to put on our cleanest clothes each week and flock together at the foot of the cross to gaze in hungry amazement at the Only One who can unmess and unbreak us.
    Let me be clear. I know this invitation is a long shot on many levels, of which I’ll name a few of the obvious ones: 1) You and I don’t really know each other. 2) If/when you meet me, I may not be very interesting or fun to talk to (I am–full disclosure–an introvert with all the social limitations that implies). 3) We are from two very different faith traditions. 4) You and I likely disagree on any number of things politically, socially, spiritually, etc, etc. 5) You may reasonably imagine/feel that you are stepping onto a distant exoplanet of unknown habitability if / when you (bravely) venture to cross our church threshold.

    But none of that really matters to me, because I see in you a brother who esteems, loves and worships the exact same Jesus I do. And I would be stoked to worship Him with you.
    The worst that could happen is that we’ll utterly repulse you at first contact. But even that will be a blessing because we will waste less of your time.
    Does that make any sense? It’s 2:40 a.m. and I’m suffering a bout of unwelcome wakefulness brought on by heart palpitations (a new awesome part of my life since December), so I’m rambling a bit. Sorry. 🙂

    Anyway, if you do dare to come despite my awkward salesmanship, please be sure to come first to the Bible study group that meets in the school across the parking lot from the church at 10 a.m. It’s just me and a number of other 20-, 30-, 40-somethings opening the Word, and it is usually the highlight of my worship experience–far more even than the sermon that follows in the church at 10:55.

    Consider yourself thoroughly, ineptly and unequivocally …. invited!

    Feel free to FB message me with any Q’s, graceful no-thankyous or whatever. 🙂

    Bill

    Liked by 1 person

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