My complicated relationship with religion and church began before I was born, with my grandparents’ religious beliefs and practices and their effects on my parents’ upbringing and particularly on beginning of their marriage, which were significant. Fodder aplenty for another post. My adolescent inclination toward the protestant church was prompted primarily by the comfort of visiting my Nana and Papa’s church and not at all related to Jesus. Years later, my retreat from being Presbyterian (where I even became an elder at a tender young age) was caused mostly by eminently reasonable questions that my husband asked me when we were attending church together and he was considering joining. Still more years later, I am Unitarian. He is Unitarian. We belong to a spectacularly vibrant church whose philosophy and message and work in the community and world we absolutely embrace, where we are challenged and engaged by the sermons and consistently moved by the music. And yet.
This is a church of 1,300 members. We have, on more than one occasion, fallen through the cracks. It can be hard to find community in such a large congregation, although there are opportunities. When you’re young and single, as I was when I joined the Presbyterian church where I used to be a member and where we were married, it’s easy to get involved. Back then I could volunteer, serve on committees, attend everything. I made friends who I still count as some of my closest friends. When you join a church when you’re married, then have a kid, then have two, and you live in a different city than where the church is located, it’s harder to put yourself out there, even though you know that’s what you would really need to do to feel a part of things.
After belonging to our church for a couple years, a few things happened that caused us to take some time off. Human frailty things. I get that the church is made of humans and humans make mistakes (even me!) and that’s just the way it is. But when you’re seeking sanctuary and comfort and think of church as a safe haven from the rough world, and bad things happen at church, it can still be hard to take. It’s easy to confuse the people with the church. (This happened to me before when I learned in college that a pastor [married with kids, for whom I babysat] who had been a role model for me as a teenager–who baptized and confirmed me–repeatedly sexually harassed women who he was supposed to be counseling, as well as the associate pastor with whom I was very close. This shook me deeply and I stopped going to church for a long time, as if somehow he was church).
So we’re back at church now. We’ve made a few more friends. It’s still pretty difficult to get involved. I often still feel like we’re falling through the cracks. Zeke is scheduled to be dedicated at church in a few weeks. We have family and friends coming. The minister who’s preaching is not one of the ones we’re friendly with. I’ve only ever had a couple awkward conversations with her. The other pastor leading the service that day is someone who I do like, and with whom we have a nascent connection. She has a young daughter and she always wants to hold Zeke and chat with Zoe when she sees us. We’ve requested that she do the dedication. I hope this actually happens. I think it will be more meaningful, and maybe it will ease the unpleasant memory of Zoe’s dedication, which was performed by the unknown intern minister, a total surprise to us, who smelled of smoke and mispronounced our name.
I’m sure it’s hard to connect with every congregant when there are 1,300 of them. It’s no wonder we don’t see the same people in the pews every week. To be fair, a family from church who I think we’d only met once and really knew only from a listserv did bring us a lovely meal after Zeke’s surgery. Another family with whom we shared a dinner ordered delicious Thai delivery another night. So there are connections to be deepened. And there’s so much to be learned and to be inspired by there. I just want to seal up some of those cracks so we don’t fall through as often.
Sometimes I feel bad that we don’t do more, or join more, or participate more. But we show up and we listen and we sing and we bring our kids and Zoe loves the music like we do and sometimes people we’ve never met before come up to us after the service and say they enjoyed watching us or watching Zoe and Zeke be part of the service. And really, showing up is all we can manage right now. So just showing up must be enough.