Going to a new church is hard. I grew up Baptist, but I can still remember taking communion for the first time at a Presbyterian church. I was kinda stunned to see a big ol’ loaf of bread being passed around. My boyfriend (before he became my hubs) told me to pinch some off and take it. I pinched about half a dinner roll’s worth. Then I sat there and watched everyone pinch a tiny little piece off the loaf. Oh, now I get it! At my old Baptist church you had these tiny unleavened bread squares come around on a platter, so you just took one and tried not to crack a tooth. I think my husband said something like, “enjoy your lunch” instead of “Christ’s body was broken for you.” And that was another thing I didn’t know about the Presbyterian ways. All these key phrases you are supposed to know. You might think you are safe when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, but wrong! You gotta watch out for “forgive us our debts” versus “forgive us our trespasses.”
I had grown up in my same Baptist church my whole life. We never moved, so I was there from diapers till graduation. I had the pattern down pat. Even as a kid when I would rest my head in my mom’s lap I could hear Dr. Gannon’s cadence slow down and I knew he was almost at the end of his sermon so I should stop my daydreaming, sit up, and be ready to sing. When I started attending church with the hubs way back when we were dating it was really hard to get used to the order of events. But over time I became accustomed to it and even started to have a couple new favorite Presbyterian hymns (especially Lord of the Dance.)
Over time I not only got familiar with saying “thanks be to God” after scripture was read, but I got to know my husband’s church family. We were tended to by sweet “extended family” and we served others and enjoyed the fellowship of working with the youth group. Our church married us, saw our babies come into the world, stood by our side in time of loss, and provided a lot of joy in various get-togethers. (I had no idea you could drink a beer with a pastor!)
I miss that dear church. Especially today when thinking of the passing of one of our extended church family members. I’m still stunned at the loss of a great lady named Dolly. You can’t picture her face without seeing a smile on it, with a smile in her eyes as well. She was in the wedding guild when Chris and I got married. She hosted many a Christmas party and Easter Egg hunt, not to mention our wedding shower. And let our kids play in her pool. What a gift she was, to be such a care taker to us and so many of the other “young couples” at our church.
Why in the world did we leave such a loving church with all of those sweet friends and framily? That was a difficult journey to navigate. See, Chris actually grew up Methodist, but was invited by his friend Dave to join the youth group at his Presbyterian church. Then, aside from going to college, my husband never left. Various friends came and went during their grad school years, but at one heavenly point, everyone made it back to Covenant. There was lots of fellowship, even Texas Hold ‘em fellowship. Unfortunately God called Dave home at the age of forty-two. It was a difficult time, and still is.
Around this time we had two toddlers. Let’s face it- taking little people to church is not a lot of fun, especially since church ends when lunchtime and naptime begins! Oh, the meltdowns! Despite the chaos, we were pretty happy to be going to church on a semi-regular basis. It was really hard to be in that church without Dave’s presence, most especially for Chris. But we kept going. It was difficult yet comforting to be with our loved ones who were also sad.
The following year my oldest daughter “graduated” out of nursery and into Sunday School. Oh, the tears! The crying! The meltdowns! I felt like a caveman dragging a chunk of meat into my cave every week. And not just on Sundays, but also on Wednesdays.
After a couple years of dragging the meltdown to church and noticing the slowness of Chris’ steps on Sundays, with no shine in his eyes, I asked myself what in the world we were doing this for. For some reason, something was not altogether adding up. It also dawned on me that I had never searched for a church before. I had gone from my parents’ church to my husband’s church. It was lucky that it was a good fit, but for some reason the shoe just wasn’t fitting right at this stage in our family’s life. Missing my old Baptist hymns and organ, I decided this would be the right time to do some looking if that was what was needed. And like a text from Above, we suddenly received an invitation to attend a service at the church where our kids had gone to preschool. We were there mainly for support in the recognition of a retiree from the church preschool, but at the end of the service, Chris and I looked at each other and said, “let’s come back here again sometime!” Maybe Dr. Doak’s prayer to “startle, us, oh, Lord” worked. It was the first time in a couple of years that our family was jiving at church. (Ellie of course, was fine all along. That girl is pretty much fine wherever she is!)
We felt immediately welcomed into our new church. It fit me on a sensory level so well. First Pres reminded me of Smoke Rise Baptist Church. The chandeliers looked the same; the color scheme of the sanctuary was the same; the scent of gas burners warming Wednesday night supper smelled the same; the organ resonated in my bones the same; and if my child ran through the church, an adult would put up a “stop” hand signal the same (yay! Less work for mama!)
I still had unanswered questions. Would we still have meltdowns? What do the people here stand for? I knew my old church stood for equality and I joyfully witnessed two of the most beautiful moments ever at two separate same-sex marriages. It was hard to leave a church that stood for so much good. Yet, I was acting as the mama bear of our family, on the hunt to get all my bears in a good spot. Our new church home has fit us like a good shoe so far. The hubs has a fresh light in his eyes, eager to serve again. My meltdowner has quit melting down (at least at church; getting there is a different story!) It’s hard still loving our old church family and not seeing them each week, but mama bear thinks she did the right thing at the right time. At least now we have doubled our amount of church love. Thanks be to God.