I Went Back to Church

I Went Back to Church November 2, 2014

I WENT BACK TO CHURCH EMILY MAYNARD ANDY GILLI went back to church this week.

It’s been close to a year since I’ve been able to go to church on Sundays.

But this week, I went. I probably shouldn’t call it going back, actually, because it was somewhere I’d never been before.

But isn’t that sort of how it always is with faith? It’s new and old, mine and ours, holy and plain, all at the same time. It’s comfortable but constantly vulnerable. These rituals are fresh and so old.

I’d heard about this place from three different people over the past few months. Those people listened to my deep breath anxiety and frustrations with Sunday mornings that felt crowded and no one knew my name, and each mentioned this place. This church too, was new and old, going through a transition, mixing up a new church plant with an aging congregation.

I knew it was where I was supposed to try again.

It was raining when I woke up on Sunday, and my first big idea was to skip the service and spend my morning leisurely dunking toast into the yellows of two sunny side up eggs.

I managed to talk myself out of it, though and pulled on jeans and my favorite cozy sweater. June in Portland is surprisingly like October everywhere else.

I picked up a hot Americano from the coffee lodge around the corner, and drove to the little red building a few miles away, whispering my fears as prayers.

When I pulled up for the early morning service, I noticed that the grass was longer than the mess in my own yard, and several of the stained glass panes visible from the street was cracked or covered over. It looked like a place where I could show up with my imperfections visible and anxiety in tow, and that made me feel a little more welcome.

I cupped my hands around my coffee and walked in, trying to be exactly on time so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. It didn’t matter. The tall narrow room was mostly empty and I was nearly 50 years younger than everyone else.

I stood out.

One of my favorite Brene Brown phrases for stressful situations came back to me, “Don’t shrink down, don’t puff off, just stand your sacred ground.” Anxiety speeds everything up, so I tried to slow myself down. I slid into a pew near the back, but not quite a Baptist back. Apparently, all the hipster church plant crowd went to the later service.

Several people turned and smiled at me, and I smiled in return.

The priest walked over and slid into my row.

As much as I write about all sorts of personal nonsense online, there is nothing more vulnerable to me than when I show up, in person, and someone takes my hand.

She welcomed me and introduced herself, and I told her my name. “Have you been here before, Emily?” she asked, “I’m new.” I laughed and told her that this was my first visit and I was nervous but grateful.

Later, when I held out my cupped hands, and she pressed a wafer into them, she spoke my name again. It was new to both of us, but the peace she offered me was old and familiar.

I spent the service about a beat behind everyone else, flopping my prayer bench down by the time everyone else was settled in, whispering the words to all the songs I didn’t know, and scrambling through the Book of Common Prayer, but I think I like it there. I think I’ll learn.

These things take time.

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  • loved hearing about this. What is it about someone new speaking our name?

  • I needed to read this, Emily. Thank you.

  • Thanks, Leigh. I never felt lost, just like I was on an adventure in the woods. The woods are beautiful. I’m as grateful to find a new sanctuary as I was to be free outdoors.

  • Thank you, Jana. Isn’t it amazing? I loved being a part of a big church, but right now it feels so right to be at a place where everyone knows names.

  • I’m at a mega church where we used to be really involved-then in my heart I started questioning all the “doing” and now I don’t feel like I quite belong but it’s still my family. And I don’t intend to force my spiritual journey onto my husband. I think we all have moments that are only ours and can’t be forced on those around us. I feel finally at peace that He loves me for me and not for the doing.

  • “I think I like it there. I think I’ll learn. These things take time.”

    I love the heart of this, Em. So resonates with my own decision to seek church again, a little over a year ago.

  • Good stuff friend, thanks for sharing. What a journey you’re on!

  • With you in this tension, Jana! I love the peace you’ve found in being you, not what you can do.

  • Thank you, Bethany!

  • Isn’t it wild? Thanks for reading, Dean.

  • matthew hughes

    wow, I got a little teary reading this, really beautiful. I’m really excited for you!

  • haha – i was wondering if I was the only one.

  • Rebecka

    Oh… I can’t form an intelligent sentence today, so I’ll just say this was beautiful in every way.

  • Tamara

    So crazy. I went back to church for the first time last week too after a year and a half. I went to the church that meets in the yoga studio on williams. It was like coming home.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story here. A beautiful act of vulnerability, to be sure.

  • Oh, I’m so glad to hear this! Funny to be out of the woods and finding new places at the same time? I went to All Souls.

  • Thank you, Rebecka. I’m so amazed at people who love me, no matter what place I’m in.

  • I got a lot teary writing it. It’s cool. ;)

  • matthew hughes

    so cool, so friggin’ cool

  • Tamara

    I’d love to go visit All Souls sometime, just for funsies. I hear amazing things about it.

  • Going back is so hard, as is plugging into the community of the church. This has been a struggle for me, but worth it for all the growing pains. Thanks for writing this.

  • This is so cool… Full of sincerity and vulnerability..