I sat in the service (next to my husband--which never, ever happened when we attended there as a staff family) and thought how easy it would be to come right back. To know just about everyone's name, to know everyone's faces, to know their stories, their secrets, their heartache's and joys. To feel like it matters when you walk into the door because people know your family, too. To see genuine surprise and excitement when you see good friends. To have songs that break your heart completely in two for the congregation because you know why it matters when we sing some of those same old songs years later. To have inside jokes and laughter and fun because you have history with these people.
It feels (and felt) really good this past Sunday.
It felt comfortable.
But, I'm not the same person that left that church about a year ago. When our family left, we were in such a complicated place. It's hard to stay in a place of former employment when you know too much about too many people. It's hard to feel valuable and authentic when you are suddenly The Church Members Who Know Too Much. We knew the inside scoop of the church and it became a liability. We felt like we could no longer engage in the community without our words or actions somehow possibly being held against us. If we made complaints or suggestions, it would have been difficult for some people to not assume we were the bitter ex-staff members. It was hard to walk around with so much weight. It was weird being former staff and interacting with the new and current staff.
I spent the last few weeks at our church completely overwhelmed, heartbroken, angry, but mostly sad. It hurt to recognize that somehow this place, this comfortable community that we loved, was slowly being taken away from us. The friendships we had formed, the relationships we clung to, the routine we recognized were all beginning to fade. I was not ready to leave, I was angry that I felt like I had to make a choice, and at the same time I was itching to shed some of the weight we had been carrying.
You cannot walk away from a ministry without some deep and complicated battle scars.
So, we made the decision to make a clean break. We abruptly left our church for a different church community. We had been invited by the minister to try their church while he was speaking at our camp one week. We went the next Sunday and have been attending ever since. We immediately felt like it was a good fit for our family. We enjoyed the atmosphere, the music, the minister's messages, the children's programs, and the coffee.
Our new church home is completely different from where we had previously served. It's a young congregation that currently meets in a high school while we are in the process of securing property. The church members are a variety of faces and ethnicities and stages of people. It's not uncommon to see elderly couples in their suits and dresses sitting next to the tattooed couples in their stilettos and spandex--and both are standing with their hands in the air worshipping with the same fervor and intensity. The military flavor of the town brings and takes families away from the church community. This church has a history, but it doesn't have long legs. . . yet. The congregation has great pride and ownership and there is palpable excitement about where this church is headed.
We have very few friends in our current church. The people are all incredibly nice, but we don't have that same welcomed feeling as we had at our previous church--simply because we are just a regular family in the congregation.
But, to be completely honest, it's kind of nice, too.
We aren't always missed if we are absent a Sunday, and while we have a lot of people we know and speak to, we aren't on a deeper, personal level with the people in this congregation. Molly went through a serious identify crisis during our initial transition. It was unnerving for her going from almost celebrity status as a minister's child to a regular child. She cried for weeks on the way to and after church about missing her old stomping grounds and friends.
It was sometimes tough not to cry with her.
Because I missed it all, too.
But, even through all of the unfamiliar-ness of the new church family, I still seek and long for the uncomfortable changes a new church home has brought me this year. Having my routine disrupted has made me get really serious about who I am and what I believe. It's made me look at my spiritual life on a whole new level and I've had to really put my heart where my Faith is. I'm no longer looking at the relationships and routine to fill those places in my heart--the very places that need(ed) to be filled with Him.
I'm not saying that staying at the old church would not have brought me to this place. But, I have a feeling that it would have taken me longer to get up off the comfortable couch of our old church home. I had some serious issues that needed to be dealt with--and I might have been content to continue sweeping it under the rug.
I was nervous walking in the doors of the building this past weekend. I was curious if a lot of the angst and/or memories were going to find their way back to my heart. I was pleasantly surprised to find Peace.
Time and space can heal a lot of wounds.
And there's a lot to be said for prayers and Grace.
So, while it was good to be back this past weekend, it was a lot like the first time a college student returns to their house after being on campus. I loved being in the presence of friends and family, but it will be good to return to our new church home.
And I delight in the fact that one day we will all be Home together for eternity.