A few hundred people file in, mingling about as they enter. Hands are shaken with friendly comments exchanged, but I feel alone. Taking a seat in the 4th row from the back, I open my purse and pretend to situate something inside before setting it on the floor. The cushion underneath me is overly plush, offering comfort to my body but not to my mind. I sink down in, and yet try to sit up tall. I love the fact that no one knows me, but I loathe it at the same time.
This isn’t my church. No, my church is smaller. I’m a visitor here.
Glancing at my watch I see that 5 whole minutes remain until the service begins... 5 long, awkward minutes. The ticking of my watch has slowed, I’m sure of it.
Ooh, look at that family over there. 4, 5, 6, SEVEN - that’s a lot of kids! They cover a whole row themselves, all dressed in simple clothes, but with sweet faces carrying strong resemblance. One pesky little boy tugs at his sister’s long, blonde ponytail, hoping his parents are too distracted to notice. And look at that cute couple 3 rows behind them, maybe be in their mid twenties. I bet they’re newly-weds… probably just got back from their honeymoon. Her head rests gently on his shoulder, and every once in awhile he squeezes her knee with his hand.
“Excuse me, Miss? Is anyone sitting here?” A lady stops at the end of my row and points to the seats on my left.
“Uh, no.” I said, pulling my legs to the side so they could pass by. The woman, dressed in a bold, blue skirt and jacket, swept by leaving a trail of gardenia perfume in her wake. Her hair was pinned neatly to her head, makeup perfected her face, and a gaudy purse dangled from her shoulder. Behind her, were 2 teenagers - 1 girl and 1 boy - and a husband whom I imagined to be a high-end executive, who carried a Bible today in place of his usual brieffcase.
After sitting, I noticed their daughter frantically waving at a group of teens several sections away, focusing on one boy in particular. The boy smiled coyly and nodded back. “Britney,” her mother signed, slapping her hand down. “You’ll see them later.”
With long scraggly hair and several body-piercings, I’m sure this boy did not meet the mother’s approval. How funny, I thought.
Still 2 minutes to go. I scanned the bulletin they’d handed me at the door to pass more time. Its crisp, white paper contained several pages of announcements. Activities were listed for this group or that - Bible studies, barbeques, business meetings, and building plans. There were groups for seniors, groups for students, groups for children, and groups for adults. Each carried with it a catchy title and a host of upcoming events. Monday is Single’s Coffee, Tuesday is a small group at the Wallace’s, Saturday is Men’s Breakfast in the fellowship hall, and Thursday is a fundraiser for the Chile Missions Trip.
Wow, that’s a lot of events… for a lot of people. The sanctuary was nearly full now and only a few more people trickled in as music began on the front stage - first guitar strumming, then the addition of drums, and now voices, growing stronger, getting louder, banding together.
Suddenly I don’t feel as alone.
“Would you please stand with us?” the worship leader asked raising both hands in the air as he continued in song. As if in one sudden movement, the congregation arose, all three hundred of them… and I with them. The song grew louder in my heart, the moment more intense.
“We praise you, O Lord for the love that You give and the time that you spent on this earth for our sins. We lift up your name in honor and praise. In Jesus we place all our love and our faith…”
People all around were singing the same words, to the same God, in the same place as I was. The large family, the honeymooning couple, the prim and propers, the wild and pierced… and the girl who sat by herself – all united as one. Three hundred, and yet just one.
Did I mention I love visiting new churches?
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