I found it by its website. There was this lovely message of greeting from the pastor:
What you see on these pages is not the sum total of who we are, but it will give you a glimpse. Here you see faces, families, and festivals that speak of who we are as God’s people.
You’ll see that we raise things: we raise the cross of Christ in worship, we raise our children together, we raise our voices in song and praise.
You’ll see, too, what we hold: we hold fast to each other, our faith in Jesus, and our reformed tradition.
Finally, we expect things: we expect God to meet us in worship, we expect to do ministry in our city and world, and we expect to keep growing in grace.
Our life together is a gift from God–come share the gift.
We had been attending a perfectly adequate church* in the next town over (probably equidistant from our house, but the new one was in our own city), but had found no connections there. We had been floundering since the baby was born. We’d made it to church maybe two or three times after being pretty regular for the 2 years before baby. (Maybe that first church was good practice at seeing what the Presbyterians were all about without any commitment or obligation. Also, had we tried our church when we first looked for churches, they would have been in the midst of interims and a pastor search process, and we might well have tried once and never again. I don’t know how God works, but there may have been something Providential about the timing there.)
I’ve told this story here before, but it’s a pretty formative story for me at this juncture, so I am going to re-tell it. Don’t feel obligated to read (as if anyone is obligated to do anything online…)
I had a toddler and was pregnant. I had finished coursework at the university and was feeling disconnected. My friends were moving to distant parts of the country. The friends I had from the past lived 45 minutes away or a half hour up the hill–too far for frequent get-togethers–and they were busy with jobs and families and their own lives. I had made many lovely casual acquaintances in grad school, but the people we were closest to went back and forth from Canada. I was working on a dissertation, and I had no connections in the city. So… (desperate much?)
I really wanted to be back in church, and back for real, not just sitting in a service a couple times a month (though I suppose we did just that for the first eight months or so, but I’m getting ahead of myself).
I told Computerguy I’d like to get back to going to church, and we could go back to the other church, but I’d like to try this new one first. (We talked about this recently, and why we had never tried it in the first place, and it turns out he had intentionally not wanted to try the “downtown church” with all that suggests.)
Advent 2008 (probably second Sunday of Advent because I don’t think we would have gone Thanksgiving weekend), we walked into the First Presbyterian Church and fell hard and fell fast. We asked someone with a child about our child’s age about the nursery. She told us where it was, but also assured us that children were welcome in the service (I’d honestly never heard of such a thing).
Maybe I was just ready for it, but it was everything I had ever longed for in a church. From the liturgy that was participatory but not too complex to the music that drew Computerguy (and Advent is a good time for music) to the sermon that drew me (best. sermons. ever.) to the pastoral prayer (me? Not tune out a prayer?) to the camaraderie of parents with small children in back pews. It was God.
On our way home we said yes to each other. This was our church.
It wasn’t perfect. People were friendly, but it took us a long time to do more than say hi. A lot of them have several generations in the church, and Sunday morning is about being with their families. A lot of them are basically really shy and reserved (as are we), so neither side reached out easily. And it takes time and more than sitting in worship to form the kind of relationships I was looking for. We attended one luncheon (a chance to talk to people!) and everyone we had met filled the tables so quickly with their own groups, we ended up with strangers who introduced themselves but nothing more.
Meanwhile, the worship continued to draw us, and even though we had few conversations with her, the pastor made us feel at home. It is hard to separate the church from the pastor, especially when the pastor is charismatic and dynamic (she would–and has–argue(d) with this description. She would be wrong). For better or worse, she is the face of the church, and she drew us and kept us. We now have many other connections in the church, but she was the starting point.
One day last week, I said on that ubiquitous social networking site that I was grateful for friends from 20 years ago and for friends today. Someone commented that I should be especially grateful for friends who were both, and I couldn’t let it go. While I am truly grateful for friends who have stuck with me for 20 years, I’ve moved and they’ve moved and those people aren’t in my day-to-day life (except maybe online, but that’s different). There have been several articles recently (here is one from the New York Times) about how difficult it is to make friends after the teens and early twenties (20 years ago for me, and such precious friends), and that day I was achingly missing my friends from my twenties and was utterly grateful that I have slowly and tentatively made new friends in the last 5 years, friends because of church: the childcare center director, the chemist from the Friday morning book group, the librarian who invited me to Circle, the mom who was always friendly, but has become a friend because our daughters are friends, the other 12/7 intern, the youth director’s wife who is an English teacher and has children the ages of both my kids (and a baby), the woman who lives two streets up from us, and, well, the pastor (we’ve had a few more conversations since those first months).
Lest I make it sound like I think church is only about community (I do, in fact, think it is greatly about community, and God in community), there was also an immediate sense of the Spirit of God in this church, and in the people, both within the congregational community and moving outward into the larger community. This is also a time and place in which my relationship with God–never in question–has grown stronger and deeper and in new and transforming ways, and I am able to serve God in ways I never imagined.
So. I am grateful. I didn’t manage 30 days of gratitude, but I am grateful every day.
Our life together is a gift from God.
Thanks be to God.
*Our pastor’s spouse is currently (just recently) the interim pastor of the church in the next town. We may go back just once because we like him and would like to see him in action some time, the way one does with a friend.