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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