Six observations from my first time at church
Other than weddings and funerals, the last time I went to church was at school, circa 1997.
And it was under duress. I made the most of my time by working on my ability to pass notes to my friends undetected.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself again in the back row of a church service. This time, I attended under no duress and while the notes were still as copious, they were for me.
It was an awkward experience. I felt like an impostor. Everyone looked confident and in the know. But I swallowed the anxious ball in my throat and resisted the pull to flee. Not only that, I managed to observe a thing or six.
I'm sharing these with you because now that there's some distance between that first experience, I've realised it's completely normal to feel awkward, or daunted, or just plain uncomfortable (at even the thought of attending). And if you're an anxious introvert like me, things can feel amplified!
1 | The church didn't look like a church.
Churches have steeples and pews and an organ. They are very old and made from stone. Right? Lol.
This church was modern. It was shaped like an auditorium, with comfortable (individual) upholstered seats, set on a gradient toward a big stage, where a serious-looking band outfit was at the ready. There was a lighting and sound booth with little lamps. There was an enormous foyer with pockets of lounges, a little book store... and a cafe. The whole lot was air-conditioned.
It took me a few stunned minutes to drink the place in. My expectations and my deeply rooted ideas about church had been slapped and confronted. Once I got over myself, I found myself facing the obvious. A church isn't about how it looks, or what it's made from, or its orientation. It doesn't even need to be a building.
It's a group of people.
2 | People are friendly. I mean, really friendly.
And if they discover you're a new Christian? They will beam and be so genuinely happy for you that you might feel uncomfortable.
Which is exactly how I felt. I've never had a complete stranger feel so outwardly happy for me before, let alone a whole bunch of them. I didn't quite know what to do with myself.
3 | There is a lot of singing.
I expected the service to be passive: one person up the front talking to us, punctuated with a hymn or two.
Rather, the service opened with three songs. The band pumped, and the people got into it. They showed emotion. Like, they'd raise an arm or two while singing (loudly), or do this little foot move when a lyric particularly resonated.
My past experience of singing in church was not boppy. It was standing straight and still with my nose in a hymn book, singing (read: miming) lyrics of which I understood none. This was the complete opposite.
I stared some more.
4 | Everyone is in the know.
Especially when it comes to looking up verses. By the time I found the verse in question, we were already up to the next one. Sigh.
5 | Hiding toward the back doesn't work.
I thought positioning myself near the back meant I could get away with a few polite nods and smiles and I wouldn't need to engage with anyone, giving me the space to observe. But the really friendly people sit up the back, too.
Toward the end of the sermon, an older couple sitting close by pressed a scrap piece of paper into Lincoln's hand. On it, they had scrawled their names and number with the offer to call at anytime if we needed anything.
I couldn't speak.
6 | I hardly remember what was said but I will never forget how I felt.
Walking back to the car, Lincoln asked me what I thought. I felt like bursting into tears. I felt so overwhelmed and confused by what I had just experienced, I didn't have the clarity to express myself. The ride home was a bit strange.
This was a place where I couldn't be anonymous and call my own shots. Where I felt vulnerable. Emotional. Exposed.
Yet I wanted this to be my new normal (even, clutch your pearls, the singing). I wanted the difficult, beautiful truth. I wanted this family.
I couldn't wait to go back.