A church

Last Sunday our church moved to its new summer home. This is the fifth space that we have regularly worshiped in over the past six years, just now overtaking the number of apartments that my husband, Evan, and I have shared over the same time span.

 

As I stood toward the front of our new airy and pillared space that was filled with nearly all the people that I am close with in the city, I reflected on my first time in our very first space.

 

It was in the evening on the last Friday in June. I stood on the sidewalk outside a long line of row houses with ancient wrought iron gates, thick with innumerable coats of black paint. There was nothing resembling a sign. I wondered if this could be a church.

 

row houses

I remember feeling nervous. The past eight weeks had been a succession of new beginnings. It was two weeks after I had moved a thousand miles across the country, four weeks after I had gotten married,  seven weeks after I had graduated from college, and ten weeks after turning down admission to an unfunded PhD program.

 

I was dizzy from the changes.

 

door

We double checked the address, opened the gate, and walked up the cracked cement to the porch.  A kind looking man in his late twenties opened the door and in response to our question if this was the place for the church plant, said in a light drawl, “Yes. Come on in. My name’s Coite.” And I suppose in response to our puzzled faces he repeated a little more slowly, “That’s Co-ite.” We introduced ourselves as he moved a bike away from the door so we could come in.

 

The week before we had attended the bigger downtown Anglican Church that was planting a new church.  It had been a lovely service, but it felt crowded and we only met about three people afterwards. There was an announcement about a new church plant in the Columbia Heights neighborhood though.  They were going to have their first summer meeting on Friday in a guys group house.

 

A small church plant would be a good way to get to know people, we thought.

 

We walked into the living room. There were about 20 people standing around in clumps. It felt like a house warming party, where you only know one person. We walked back through the living room toward the dining room where bottles of wine and sparkling water were set out.  Everyone seemed to know each other already.

 

wine

I think we were the new church plant’s first visitors, if it is possible to be a visitor at the first meeting of something.

 

I was so new to the world of DC parties and adult mingling—the exchange of names and professions.  I remember wishing I had something more exciting to say than that I had just moved here and was looking for a job.  But I didn’t. So I just had to repeat that new tag line again and again. I remember feeling like I wanted the evening to end so I could go home. Maybe I could come back to the church when I had a respectable answer for what I did. And yet at the same time, I kept hoping that perhaps the next person could be my first new friend in the new city.

 

And even though everyone was very nice, I didn’t make a kindred spirit-best friend that evening.

 

After eating baked chicken on paper plates, we sat in an assortment of chairs and benches and had evening prayer. Someone had a guitar. We sang a few hymns.  We heard the first sermon in the summer’s series on 1 Peter.  And in that stuffy row house, surrounded by people that I wanted to impress and who intimated me, we were brought together in the practices of prayer, worship, and the word.

 

guitar

We affirmed the Life and Resurrection of Christ together.  We were connected even if I couldn’t feel it.  These strangers were my brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

We came back the next week, and I remembered a few people’s names, and we talked about more than how I didn’t have a job. As the summer progressed we got to know the dozen or so core people who faithfully prayed for that church plant for months before we had somewhat haphazardly shown up at the front door.

 

Slowly, the small talk got less awkward. Midsummer, the planting church hired a new pastor who was assigned to help us grow.  I remember meeting Tommy and his wife Laura. They introduced themselves, and yet they were clearly welcoming us in even though it was their first time there.

 

With Tommy and Laura there, Friday nights slowly began to feel more like going to an extended family gathering.  I had a job by then. I was ready to whip out, “I’m an Administrative Assistant in the Dean’s office at the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.” It sounded so official. The seeds of friendship had even begun to sprout little leafed seedlings.

 

Seedling

We began to look and feel more like a regular church. We grew. We got a name: Church of the Advent. We started to meet on Sundays.  We had small groups and potlucks and retreats.  At the same time, I felt like I started to look more like a real adult with jobs and degrees and plans.

 

And over the years it can be easy for me to forget what it’s like to show up at a Church without friends and without legitimate-sounding (or any) work.  It’s how we refer to people—“oh, she’s in that Columbia Heights small group and she’s a teacher.”  But then I gave up impressive sounding work, like a PhD program, and exchange it for nannying, and I am reminded that I belong to the Church whether I feel important or not. And the Church is a place to meet Jesus whether it’s in someone’s living room or in a vast (if somewhat leaky and dilapidated) sanctuary.

 

We all join the Church because we need a family and an identity and to be fed by the sacraments. We all come without impressive answers to those questions, because we all need Jesus and His Church.

 

And sometimes at Church we still feel lonely. Sometimes we feel like we’d like to wait to come until we have some important work to tell people about. But the Church, with all its broken people, is the place to come and be known.  It’s a place to be patient with other people as they are being shaped.

 

holding hands

 

It is the place to wait and seek the Lord together to give us good work in His good time.

 

It is the place to be put into a family, even if that family isn’t what you’d choose, and even if you get annoyed or frustrated with it at times.

 

It’s the place to come and serve and be served.

 

It’s the place to be welcomed and welcome in the jobless and friendless as they struggle to find a place in the world, and to remind them that in Christ we already have the most honorable work and lineage.

 

How have you felt lonely and at home within your community?

 

10 Responses to Belonging to a Church

  1. Amy, this post is wonderful! I remember you were one of the first people I met when we first came to the stuffy row house–someone I wanted to impress and someone who intimidate me :)

    Your blog is beautiful. So excited to read more!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Oh thanks you Elizabeth! I love your blog! You always inspired me with your dedication to it. My first memories of you were that you were awfully taken with that red haired boy who sat next to you! I think that first women’s collective leadership group were some of my first deep female friends at Church. We miss both of you (and getting to know the new little one!) very much!

  2. Brittany says:

    I loved this, Amy. I can’t help but wonder if we would have become friends that night, had I not been away for the summer? I remember coming back in August and thinking you and Evan seemed to settled into things at the church plant. And I’m reminded how “outside” we can feel, no matter how “inside” we appear to be.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thank you Brittany! I wish that you had been there, that would have been so cool. I think Daniel might have been there that first meeting, at least Evan remember meeting him really early on. I only remember meeting Dan C and Coite that first night. And you’re so right, we really do all still feel “outside.” I remember telling you that I sometimes find myself wanting people to know how I was there in the beginning. And you wisely said, “it’s the allure of the inner ring” a la CS Lewis. I’m so glad you are in my life and at Advent!!

  3. Did you know we came back to our hometown, Albuquerque, to plant a church? It’s been a wonderful ride.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Oh Wow, Caroline! That’s amazing. I think one of the best and hardest parts is how when it’s small you can get involved doing a lot early on, because there is just so much to do and so few people to do it. And then new people come, and they assume to do something they have to be really qualified to join in or take over. It’s a constant dance to match gifts and needs. In the end there is just a lot of change with a church plant because it needs to grow, and that’s been a stretching experience for the girl who likes routine and stability.

  4. Hannah says:

    Hey Amy,
    I love the pacing of this blog. It’s beautifully written. It’s like I’m getting a glimps inside the mind of another person and they’re not so different from me… I’m not as alone as I can sometimes think I am. :)

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Oh thank you Hannah! I’m glad you feel encouraged with the juxtaposition of eighteenth century novels, baking soda hair care, and reflections on college :) But it’s all stuff I love, and I’m so glad to know that you enjoy a similar smorgasbord. I’m so glad that you are at church with us. On Sunday, I seriously looked at your hair and thought, “I need to trim my hair so it looks as good as Hannah’s.” Your being a part of Advent is a blessing, Hannah!

  5. Megan says:

    Amy, this is wonderful. It took me back to our first days at Casa and drew me into the story behind it all. Thanks for sharing! And, keep writing. (ps. Love the simple pics.)

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Megan! I really wanted to have real pictures, but I thought it would be weird for me to show up at that house with its new owners and ask to come into their living room and take pictures :) There are so many different stories of people coming into our community in its different spaces and iterations. I’m so glad that you’re here and have been such a faithful part of Advent!

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