I made a promise to both myself and my fiancé to start off on the right foot when I move in with him in Greeley, an hour from my current home in Denver: we would be intentional about finding a community. We wouldn’t be hermits (which, thanks to Netflix and the liquor shop across the street, would be extremely easy to do). The idea of having to meet new people again – particularly church people – terrifies me. I keep thinking of all the times in the last year it went horribly, horribly wrong.
But even though I’m still bitter, this may be what I need. This may be part of what brings me back to myself. It is, after all, how Josh and I met. So clearly good things have come out of belonging to a church.
Except Josh and I are from two completely different worlds. We want different things when it comes to churches. He grew up in evangelical culture and doesn’t see the same flaws within it as I do.
Some of those flaws are undoubtedly real. I’ll admit, others may or may not be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I bring a copy of Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter because Josh said there’s a bookstore at this church that features local authors. I submit it to the manager, who tells me she will look it over “To ensure it aligns with our teachings.”
“They won’t accept it,” I tell Josh when I walk out.
“Why not? You’re a halfway decent writer,” he responds with a wink.
I shake my head. “Because it ends with uncertainty. I mention how I’m not sure what I think about the afterlife anymore, after Dad died. And I may have used the word ‘shit’ once or twice.”
Josh simply says “Oh.” We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.
We file in to the sanctuary, where the worship portion has already begun. This is the part I despise most about any church, because I am a lyrics snob and all the people waving their arms around creep me out. Josh stands, but I sit quietly, so I won’t be tempted to judge anyone. I use that opportunity to fill out one of those “Connect Cards,” where you write your name, contact info, if this is your first visit, and what you want to know more about.
I check off “Marriage,” “Small Groups,” and “Women’s Ministry.” But I still have doubts while doing so: what if they have those marriage seminars that focus on wifely submission in unhealthy ways? What if they act oblivious towards domestic violence? What if the small group bible studies don’t tolerate difficult questions, like why God seems to approve genocide in the Old Testament? What if “women’s ministry” just means scrapbooking and reading anti-feminist books like Captivating?
Quit your bitching, Sarahbeth.
The music ends and the sermon begins. The pastor is a short, funny old British guy who has somewhat satirical, and dare I say almost biting humor, like mine. Josh smiles at me, as if to say Am I right? Don’t you think he’s totally cool?
Okay, fine. The pastor is pretty decent. More than decent, actually. Especially when he mentions that Queen Elizabeth has opened a Twitter account. He name-dropped Her Majesty within the first five minutes of the sermon (you know I’m obsessed with the monarchy, right?), so I was quite impressed.
He went on: “It was a completely innocuous tweet, but soon enough, those internet trolls came crawling out from their caves. You know what an internet troll is, right? People who like to start arguments in comment threads for the heck of it? Well, have you ever met a church troll?”
Oh God, I couldn’t help thinking. He’s talking about me.
“Church trolls,” he continues, “Are people who are determined to find flaws in whatever church they go to, real or not.”
“That should be an oxymoron, right? ‘Church trolls’? Well, here’s the thing: we pastors don’t possess magical ‘lovey-dust’ to make everyone in the congregation pleasant and agreeable. That’s on you. My job as the pastor is to remind you that we’re all under construction. None of us are perfect, none of us have our theology 100% correct. Our spiritual journeys are not only shaped by Scripture, but by experience.”
And that, right there, was one of those moments where I somewhat understood what people in my college ministry meant when they talked about a moment being a “God thing.” Like I was somehow meant to be there, at that church, to hear that particular sermon. Could it be? I don’t know. I’m not sure how much stock I put into “God things” anymore, but yesterday made me want to reconsider.
At any rate, I agreed to check in again next week, and see what happens.