When You're Starving on Sundays
On Good Friday last year, God told me it was time to go back to church.
I went on Easter and couldn’t really get into it.
I tried, of course. I sat with the friend who hadn’t shamed me when I couldn’t sit in a pew for nearly a year, and I tried to make myself feel like Jesus was resurrected and the beautifully orchestrated songs all made sense and I could breathe deeply in an Evangelical sanctuary again. They didn’t serve Communion that day because there were so many people.
My friend hugged me after the service was over, and that part felt like I was going to be okay. But then I was back to my Sunday morning routine of waking up early and walking around the corner to my neighborhood coffee shop. I wasn’t ignoring God; I just didn’t know where to go yet. Usually I’d bring a book with me, a Christian book, or at least something that engaged my mind and heart, which sometimes feels more like a Christian book than Christian books. Sometimes I’d bring a journal and write out the things I’d want, if I were going to try going to a church again.
Coffee and a muffin were the closest I got to Communion.
I’d always pray for my neighbors.
The same people came into the shop nearly every Sunday morning: students, a few couples, and that one family with the two little girls in bright jackets who always sat in the corner out of everyone’s way. I liked seeing the same people every week and offering them a blessing, even if it was a stealthy one whispered into my mug.
Small congregation and cares for my neighborhood, I put down on my list, and then I put it away for a while.
It was the same coffee shop where, a few months earlier, a group of fifteen women gathered in an oval of chairs to talk about the Bible and femininity. We spanned decades and belief systems, but we all had stories about feeling left out or pushed out of church because of our gender. We told layers of our stories, but called it a Listening Circle.
Affirms women and all people, I added.
The woman who organized the Listening Circle was the first one to mention the church to me. “If you want to try something again, I know where you might feel welcome.” She described a new community joining with an old Episcopal parish in the neighborhood and their vision for a food pantry, beer and hymns sing-a-longs, and providing space for spiritual wrestling and doubt.
Liturgy? joined my page.
That church was mentioned out of the blue by three more people before I finally went.
It was the most delightful sort of awkward, from the nods to about fifteen of my fellow attendees in their latter decades, to the clomping of my hard soled shoes echoing down the long, narrow sanctuary, to the clumsy switching between prayer books and hymnals and the standing and the kneeling and the sitting. I followed along as best I could.
I’d spent my life in Evangelical churches, so I knew that liturgy: two songs, announcements, handshakes, sermon, and four songs. But this was different.
I didn’t really understand it, but I liked it.
It felt like I encountered God in a church service for the first time in a long, long time.
That first Sunday, I went up to the rail and knelt, holding out my hands because that’s what the old man in the suit next to me was doing. “Gluten free,” I whispered to the priest, and she placed a wafer in my hands. I put it in my mouth, followed it with a sip of wine and tried to remember if it was disrespectful to chew. It was just a bit of food and drink, but it felt like Communion.
Looking back on the past year, I can’t help but think about how I was afraid to leave that previous church or to tell people I wasn’t going anywhere. It makes me think of all the places we’re afraid to leave, even though we’re starving there.
It reminds me that we cannot control all of our timelines, but we can listen for the movement of God. And it reassures me there are coffee and muffins when we don’t have bread and wine.
Mostly, though, I think about being full.
Originally published at A Deeper Story.