Sunday, November 19, 2006

Baa!

Be the sheep, I advised as I drug myself down the hall, through a shower, and into the clothes I’d decided I would wear to the new church I was trying out. You like sheep. Focus on being a good little lamb. A shy sheep. A chic sheep, I decided, glancing down at my crisp gray pants, round toed kitten heels and putting on a pendent from Japan to match my black knit top.

“A slutty sheep, apparently.” I said after checking myself in the mirror and pulling at a shirt that was a big clingier than I remember.

I traded the black garment for a soft cardigan with a white undershirt. Black bra for white. Replaced the pretty flower necklace with my long, gold, add-a-bead chain. I debated changing my shoes and bag – navy would really be better with my blue sweater. But my only navy heels are open-toed. And how can I not have a blue bag? I have 6 shades of brown and no navy?

“Respectable.” I noted with a nod upon seeing my reflection again. “Now you go to church.” I demanded of myself, not unkindly but with some firmness since I’m flakey and sucky of late. “Nobody wants to know a sucky sheep.”

I arrived far too early – 9:35 for a 10:00 service. I waited in the car for 7 minutes, then headed into the pretty church. A 200 year old church in an 8 year old building, I calculated upon seeing the plaque. Impressive.

People smiled but failed to greet me upon my arrival. Presbyterians, I thought, with a small shake of my head. I’ve always considered them a tiny bit uppity and standoffish. Then again, I’m not all that friendly in the beginning either. Resolving to remain open to the service in the gorgeous sanctuary – soaring, wooden ceiling, soft blue carpeting and upholstery. I’ve seen better stained glass, but the lighting is nice. I offered tentative approval, and remembered the last church I auditioned.

I tried to remain peaceful and open there too. And hated every second of it. The large stone wall looked like it belonged in a lodge. I had no idea what was up with the people banging on drums before worship started. There were auditions for some talent show variant of American Idol. And if one more lady in a denim jumper with a lighthouse or redbird stitched on the front came up to sing a solo, I was going to crawl over the people sitting next to me in the pew and run out screaming. So I was reluctant to visit a different church – the last one made me feel like a minion of evil since I would never consider returning.

But upon viewing the bulletin, I sighed with relief. More praying than I’m used to, but I like that. Singing, but as a congregation or from the choir stationed up front in pretty white robes with green trim. No special performances. The pastor was a woman, I noted, trying to remember if I’ve ever heard a female preach. I don’t think I have.

She’s actually a lovely woman – she came to sit next to me before the service started. Introduced herself and asked about who I was, where I lived, where I’d been to church before. Amidst repeating my name multiple times and warning me that people would likely ask if they’d seen me there before, (“We don’t like to make people feel unimportant if we’ve forgotten them, so we get nervous and ask if you were here last week. Just in case.”), she said that there was no pressure. I was to go where God wanted me. Where I felt comfortable and right. But if they could answer any questions or provide a community of faith for me, they’d feel privileged to do so.

Then she introduced me to 4 different women, each of whom shook my hand or rubbed the shoulder of my soft sweater after asking if they’d met me last week because I looked familiar. They were kind – gentle smiles and warm greetings. Perhaps, I thought, the Presbyterian reserve mixed with the effusive Southern hospitality makes for an environment I like. So I settled in my chair (not a pew – I didn’t mind), viewed the screens overhead with narrowed eyes, then noted the PowerPoint backgrounds were pretty pictures. I might even put some of them in a header graphic for my blog, I mused. And it was rather nice having the hymns available and the responses printed somewhere other than the bulletin.

The choir is small, but strong. The children’s time was very sweet and well-populated. There were 5 or 6 times of prayer, but I found the pastor’s voice and slight Southern accent soothing and compelling. I listened – I felt peaceful – the world started to make sense.

She talked of Paul and this shipwrecks in Acts. She started the sermon by telling stories of traffic and detours. She doesn’t like being stopped on the interstate (Amen, says I – we have stuff in common!). She asked if we ever felt frustrated. That there was some path we should be following but couldn’t reach it (Yep). We didn’t understand why a detour was placed before us and the confusion, isolation and irritation were strong (Yes. Very strong. Confused. Isolated. Irritated. That’s me.). Paul wanted to go to Rome and was finally on his way. But then the ship wrecked. (So that sucked.) But he made it to shore and was gathering wood and got bit by a snake! (I prefer to think of it as a lizard personally, but I can make snake work.) Then the people thought he was a murderer since he must have deserved getting bit by the snake. (Sometimes you don’t deserve the lizard! I decided indignantly.)

Be grateful for the opportunities with which you’re faced. Be open to help others – when you struggle, you can gain empathy. Truly understand and care for people in situations similar to yours. Replace anxiety with joy. Focus. Pray. Know that there’s a reason for your current struggle and that you’ll find the path again. Detours don’t last forever.

Somewhere within the service – the sermon I liked, the songs I sang, the prayers I prayed (they say debts/debtors, not trespasses/trespass against us! I love debts/debtors!) – my stomach settled, the pressure in my head eased and there was peace.

I know, I thought softly, I’m a Presbyterian now. This is home.

So after saying hello to several more people, singing their little "Go with God" benediction song in my head, talking with Donna (she sat in front of me. Apologized for not speaking sooner, but she wasn’t sure if we’d met before) about my job and her family and my holiday plans, I walked to my car. My inner sheep let out a happy bleat – one of relief and joy and hope.

Being happy – overcoming this nasty urge to be depressed and offended and pissy – isn’t going to be immediate or easy. But this is one of the key steps for me. I’ll be there for services every Sunday I’m in town. I want to have coffee with the pastor to discuss Bible studies and service opportunities. I have a new chance to find a community of faith – one that prayed for people who are alone – who need support and love and encouragement.

They can support, love and encourage me. I need them, I think, and perhaps in attending there, I can offer that support, love and encouragement to others.

My inner sheep had a good morning.

8 comments:

Estrella said...

Wonderful! I hope that God continues to speak to your heart through your experiences there.

JustMe said...

i am so happy that you found a place!!

Repressed Librarian said...

I'm glad you had a good experience.

Vinny said...

Finding a place to worship is a big deal. I'm glad you found someplace where you feel comfortable.

That solo thing makes me crazy! Church is not a show. It's a time of worship. I'm the cantor at my church, and if I never sang another solo, I'd be fine.

hypatia said...

There are two books by a woman named Anne Lamont that might resonate with you. One is called _Traveling Mercies_ and the other is called _Plan B_. Both are autobiographical and talk about an unconventional person seeking a christian home and God and happiness and how that works out. That sounds very serious, but actually they are hilarious.

The Contessa said...

Katie - I'm so glad you found a place to worship. If I ever left the Episcopal church - prebyterian is likely where I'd go. That or lutheran. They are nice folk.

I agree with Vinny, Church isn't a show - we don't do those things either at my church. I hate that.

post-doc said...

Estrella-
I very much hope so too.

JustMe-
Me too! I remain very happy about it.

Thank you, RL. I'm happy things are going so well for you too.

Vinny-
I agree - it's a big deal. So I'm relieved and happy at the same time. I would listen to one of your solos happily - I just can't do auditions for talent shows at church services.

Hypatia-
I trust you, so I ordered the books this morning. Amazon shipped them this afternoon, so I look forward to reading them. Thanks!

Contessa-
Very nice folks indeed. And I wish I could hear you sing. If it's beautiful and reverent, I would be quite pleased with properly placed performances. But they can easily go wrong.

Terminaldegree said...

This is such a beautiful post. Thanks for writing it.

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