Do you remember the last time you walked into a room, a community or a family and you were the new one? You were the new kid on the block. Maybe you didn’t know a soul. That moment is no joke. It can feel scary and intimidating. You look around for anyone that looks halfway familiar and you come up blank. Maybe you want to make a great first impression and it feels like you’ve already bombed that.
You know how we all have things that break our heart? That make us so angry we would fight to fix it our whole life.
I feel that way about anyone feeling left out. I don’t where it started but I’ve always had this fierce mama bear protective thing for people who feel pushed to the edge. For people who don’t get invited somewhere. For people who look down in shame because they don’t think they belong.
So when I was offered an opportunity to serve as pastor to a reconciling faith community in 2015, I immediately said yes. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself as pastor of a church like Marysville United Methodist Church. But now? I can’t see it any other way.
There are some incredible people who’ve walked in the doors of this faith community in the past few years. Every couple months, we invite them to our home for a fun evening together. It’s not too complicated. We set out cookies and fruit, find Sharpies and name tags, and vacuum our living room. (We used to clean the whole house but now we settle for at least the living room!).
The door bell rings and our two kids (who can be quite shy on Sunday mornings) shriek and sprint to the front door. They swing it open, shout something at people and run away. I imagine it’s quite a weird welcome to our guests!
We say hey to our new friends in, give a little tour of the house (the church owns it so I tell them it’s kind of theirs!), we fill up our plates and find a chair in the living room.
As kids play in the other room, we share our names and favorite local restaurants. This is the moment where I watch strangers soften. The anxiety dissipates a bit. Unknown becomes a little more known.
My husband and I share about our life – how we met, where we’ve lived, what we love to do and who we are. It’s a big deal when someone wants to connect to a faith community. If they’re going to listen to me reflect on God, life and faith most Sundays, then I want them to know what makes me feel alive. I’m honored to potentially become their pastor and I want them to know that’s a big deal to me.
Then it’s my most favorite part. I ask them to share (if they want) a little about their faith background. Here come the stories. The beautiful, heart-breaking, brave stories.
“I started to ask questions and they made it clear I wasn’t allowed to ask them.”
“I watched worship online with you all for a year before I worked up the courage to show up in person.”
“I pushed back from my faith for a long time but it’s time to step back into it.”
“My family doesn’t want to be a part of church but I do. It’s hard for me to be there by myself but it’s important to me, more than ever.”
“My partner and I walk into other sanctuaries and everyone turns to stare at us.”
“I was raised in another tradition and it felt so strict and unloving. There’s got to be another way to follow Jesus.”
My heart grows 1,000 times bigger when people share. They are brave, vulnerable, honest and trusting. I watch as strangers who softened earlier now become friends. They lean forward, nod with understanding and laugh with shared joy.
I know the church so often gets it wrong. So very wrong.
But the church also has the potential and power to get it so very right.
After we all finished sharing, I wrap up with a prayer and instructions to eat all the food before they leave. One of my new friends then says, “I don’t know about you all, but my heart feels very squishy right now.” Everyone roars with laughter.
Yes, indeed. We need more squishy heart moments with strangers who become friends.
May it be so.
P.S. Here’s the fun announcement that I mentioned last Friday! I’m so excited to send this email out to others who crave moments to slow down and let go with courage and ease. Want to get the next email? Sign up anytime!