Heading to a playground means meeting others. Even if I want to sit back, eventually E. will start something within 10 minutes. At almost seventeen months, he swings first, which he knows gives him time to scope out the big kids' game and who has claimed the slide. Once he's got it all sorted out, he wants down. And then we're all in the thick of playing and meeting other parents and kids.
Heading to church means engaging in 'sharing the peace.' This is a Christian phrase for welcoming community members and new attenders by praying for Christ's peace to be with one another. It is usually a part of a worship service. Nick and I agreed that when we check out churches in our area, we'll give vague answers unless the church community are really skilled question askers. In that case we'll tell the truth.
Anonymity sounds like this for us. "We just moved because of a job change. We're just checking out some local churches. What do you really like about this church?"
Out of the five weekends we've been doing this, twice have connect desk greeter questions gotten through our vagueness. Twice has the general congregation (and not a greeter volunteer or pastor) welcomed us in a personal way. On a negative note, once we were about 10 minutes late because of getting out the door with kids and then driving 30 minutes to an unfamiliar area; we stood in the side aisle searching for a seat as congregants glanced at us, and kept their seats with 1-2 empty seat buffers. We had to scoot across someone in the second row to find 3 seats together. We might not always make it on time, but we stay through the whole service and try to make it to the coffee/socializing area.
I love connecting personally with others. Knowing the community around me brings greater joy and turns my heart to prayer more easily, when I worship with those I know. Being anonymous all the time is too isolating, and too heavy a burden. While our family is only in the Saint Louis area for a 2 year stay, it could be easy to slip into a mindset that searches for friends only in the seminary family community. Easy, to only be involved in the church where Nick will do his field education. Easy, to find a newcomers group or a parents' group and become tight with a few families. What a tragedy, if we end these two years without knowing our neighbors next door, or the regulars at the playground. Jesus is pulling me outside of my needs in friendship. He wants me to see every new acquaintance through his lens: Is this person in need of meaningful friendships and love? Does this person know God?
Jesus didn't let the woman at the well get away with vague, general answers. He listened and responded deeply. Jesus revealed her darkest secrets truthfully and lovingly. He responded to her deepest longings. With her heart in Jesus' care, she faced her shame and invited her village to check out Jesus - and they listened to this outcast woman.
Jesus is pulling me outside of my needs, and reminding me daily to love others, to lean into those brief Sunday- and slide- conversations as we get acquainted.
If you like two sides to every coin, head over to Nick's blog
for some August reflections on getting acquainted and worshiping anonymously in Saint Louis.
If you have your own 'new kid on the block' story to share, please leave a link to your story, or comment below!