Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On visitng a church and being a non anxious presence

Being originally from the Midwest I am a true appreciator of Southern culture. I had a truly authentic experience on Sunday for my first church visit of the sabbatical. I went to Miller's Chapel Christian Church in Alpine, Tennessee.

Prior to my arrival there- it felt like the weirdest Sunday morning ever. I mean, I slept until eight am and I am usually up at least by six. My husband was already scurrying around to leave for our first service. So I slept in, had coffee and breakfast (that NEVER happens on Sunday morning), had some God time (read a devotion, journaled and read part of a book I love). Then I got ready for church.

I drove slowly the 20 minutes through winding country roads. I enjoyed with new eyes the amazing green covered rolling hills. I said good morning to horses and cows and smelled that smell that you smell when you pass a spot where they are drilling for oil.

Then I arrived at Miller's Chapel. It wasn't my first time there- I have actually preached there before. When I arrived I walked around the yard and took some pictures. The church is made of stone and amazingly beautiful. The minister and his wife are good friends of mine- even second family. They are my senior minister's parents. I know many of their members as well so it felt familiar and comfortable. I made a quick use of the indoor plumbing they are so proud to have recently acquired and it was time to grab a seat. They were happy to see me. Not just because they know me and I'm a friend- but because two major families that make up the bulk of the church were gone and I would prove to be a warm body and a head to be counted (my presence will boost the number they will post at the front of the church next week for last week's attendance).

We began the service singing "Victory in Jesus" from our hymnals with shaped notes (its a good thing I don't read music or that would be really confusing). The service continued to make me smile as the community shared its life together through prayer concerns, we took communion, we gave our offering, and we took time to greet one another. By greet one another I mean every person spoke to every other person there- which was less than 20 of us. I felt so at peace there among the community- even though it is not exactly my own- I'd say they're more like church cousins.

Then it was time for the sermon. "Lessons learned from watching gardens grow." Not only did I love the sermon, it seemed totally identifiable to the lives of the people gathered there. The thing I loved most about this church visit was the lack of anxiety I felt there. Part of it was my own attitude- I'm on sabbatical! Another part was David (the pastor's) ability to be a completely non-anxious presence as a pastor- both in the pulpit and out. This is what I am striving to be as a minister- a lot of times I do a good job. Sometimes I'm totally rattled.

A non-anxious presence (to steal a phrase from Dick Hamm) speaks volumes. In not so many words it says, "I love God, and God loves me and there is nothing we can't handle together." Or it says, "This church loves God, and God loves this church and so there is nothing we need to be anxious about." Sometimes we let the fear take over and we forget that we love God and each other deeply. The church at its best is a place where the people who love God back (to steal a phrase from Anne Lamott) can be together and never forget to dwell in that love. We act and make decisions not because we're scared but because we're in love. What a great goal- to actually be the Beloved Community of God. As a minister I want to be anxious and fearful less and love more. Sounds easy, right? Maybe during sabbatical I will discover deeper ways and new ways to do that.

All that said my report from my first church visit is: I love church and it was delightful to visit a small, mountian church and to feel the non-anxious presence of God and others there.

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