I remember sitting in English class in 9th grade and admitting to my teacher that I got most of my ideas for stories while sitting in church. I thought he’d be surprised, maybe shake his head a little, smiling, and tell me that church was for focusing on the Lord.
Instead, he laughed and said, “Me too! There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ that fills me with creativity. Well, that, and when I can’t sleep at night.”
Church has always been a place of mixed emotions. When people ask me about my church life, I think of the little brown church on a busy street where I first encountered God and saw for the first time that God’s love spread even and especially to the disabled. This was also where I discovered music, and I remember counting the rectangular windows while we sang “How Great Thou Art.”
[I was both awed and confused by the extremely heavy vibrato behind me.]
This was also the first place I saw deep relationships destroyed, families betrayed by their own, young children crushed by the meanness of others. I wasn’t exempt from it, either – I think I may have indeed been one of the mean ones, struggling desperately not to be labeled as “weird” or “different.” There isn’t much worse than this when you’re seven years old.
The next church I think of is the old white church on Main Street, with its green steeple and gravel driveway. I think of Joy Club and youth group and Vacation Bible School. Long Sunday afternoons when we all would play volleyball til our knees were scraped up from diving, and excursions for barbecue down the road when all we thought about was laughing and wiffle ball and perhaps that tiny worry that:
Jesus didn’t mean as much to us as he was supposed to.
This was around the time I started writing in church. Usually it was in my head, long, terrible plot-lines that always involved heroic orphan-girls and handsome boys who lived “in town.” One time I scribbled a slightly-scandalous outline for a story on the back of an offertory envelope; it involved two members of the congregation, and I surely should have been more careful. I did try to pay attention. I succeeded, often. But like my English teacher said, “There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ.” I felt a well of anticipation and ideas whirling around.
[I hopped around from church to church, staying a week, a month, a season. College was too complicated and they demanded too much: “Ministries! Use your gifts! Vocation! Sing! Youth Group! Sunday School!”, so I ran away.]
[St. Peter’s Church in Salzburg]
I worshipped with my new church on Easter Sunday. It wasn’t what I was used to. In order to worship together in one service, we had to move to the local high school, and suddenly it felt more like a show than church. I was surprised because that’s not how Sunday mornings usually feel here, but I closed my eyes and willed myself to be open.
I have so many set ideas of the way things should be and all too often I let those ideas destroy moments that shouldn’t be destroyed.
So I sang with all my might: “Low in the Grave He Lay,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “In Christ Alone.” The hymns were the same, even if there was suddenly a screen above the pastor. The smiling faces around me were the same as most Sundays. I was grateful to have my family with me, to worship alongside them like we did when were little. I was grateful that God has kept me close to Him, even when church has been such a place of mixed things.
I am slowly getting more involved, with my feet only slightly dragging behind me. There is so much history between me and church, but that’s true of anyone who’s stuck it out and been part of the worshipping church. You can’t take Christ and leave the Church, or at least, I can’t justify it, as much as I’ve tried. Christ came to redeem people, and it’s people that make the Church so difficult.
All I can do is try to be one of the people who makes it a better example of the Kingdom.