WORDS | AUBREY JOHNSON
PHOTOS | JESSICA BILLS
LETTERING | SAM PALENCIA
I have seen you sitting alone during services. I have noticed the panic that overtakes your expression when the pastor kicks off the “greeting” portion of worship services. I’ve seen you stand on the outskirts of circles of chatting people before finally making a beeline out the door – and I am here to tell you that I understand.
I have spent countless services in that position. I’ve attended discipleship groups and engaged in conversations with those who are decades older than me to desperately try and forge a connection before ultimately deciding that this church must not have a place for me.
Believe me, I was there.
Yet, despite my worst habits dying to tear me away again, I stuck around my current church. Against all the odds I had stacked up against myself, I have now found one of the most life-giving, gorgeous communities I could have ever imagined.
Friend, this church is not perfect. It’s far enough from perfect that it had often left me walking out of heated congregational meetings feeling utterly disheartened at the blemished Body of Christ that is meant for unity and service. It led to several tearful conversations with my new spouse examining what work we could possibly do here. As newlyweds we desperately wanted a place in the worldwide congregation as we launched ourselves into our new joint-identity.
In the midst of our struggle, we fought for unity wherever we could seek it. We dove into relationships with those around us more intentionally than we thought possible. We’ve sat through initially awkward conversations over meals at our little home and have literally climbed mountains with members of our new community (not an easy task, given how hopelessly out of shape I am). Each persistent display of interest and love for our new local tribe began to carve a place for us here, and trust me when I say that it has been well worth it.
My husband and I have found some of the most authentic, generous people I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this phase of life with. We approach church concerns together with genuine care and are moved into action. We study the scriptures together in a way that promotes honesty and growth toward the people we have been made to be. Ultimately, we started doing church.
There are many things in this life that I’m not sure about. I say this especially now as a newly married and relocated post-grad with a degree in English and film studies. However, in the midst of this bizarre time, I’ve become more sure of the fact that not only do I need to love Christ more fully now than ever, but I also need to love what he loves. And what does our faultless groom love more than his bride, the church?
There is no perfect church, only perfect submission; submission to Christ and to the idea that as his Church we can be used to bring hope to the world at large. Often, this hope comes in spite of ourselves. Gaining this unlikely community has convinced me even more that the life we are urged to live as followers of Christ is vastly more exciting and gorgeous than any of us can imagine. It’s not easy, but I suppose that’s part of the fun.