June 15, 2009

I'm Not a Celebrity. Get Me Out of Here!

So maybe you have recently wandered out of the yard and darkened the door of a church. If you've been out of church for awhile like I had, or if this is your first experience on the inside, it can be as intimidating as any reality TV show.

That's why I hid out in the balcony for a year. I did venture into a Sunday school class...once. It was dreadful. For several months I had wondered how you could find out about classes without getting trapped into actually going to one. (This was clearly before the internet made that kind or research easier.) I wondered if there were mixed classes that singles could attend or if I would have to attend a singles class, something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Clearly singles classes would have to be made up of people who were desperately seeking spouses, or who were generally dysfunctional. I wasn't like those people.

Somewhere along the way, I filled out a visitor card, even though I was already a member of the church. Since I had been on that 18-year sabbatical and hadn't received mail in years, I knew that the church had not kept up with my moves. So I outed myself and gave my address and asked to be placed on a Sunday school roll.

I was placed on the Singles 2 roll. (I hate Singles being used in the name of a class, but that's a blog for another day.) Singles 2 was - theoretically - a class for 30-39 year-olds. I was 32. So the April Sunday I finally mustered up enough courage to try it, I was a little surprised - no make that mortified - when I stepped into a room full of people who appeared to be well past 39. They weren't all older. Roughly a third of them fit into the advertised age range. There were a handful who were just a little past 39, but it appeared that more than half were 45+. When you're 32, that's a giant leap.

So after taking a step back into the hall to verify that I was in the right room, I took a deep breath and walked in, reminding myself I wasn't like those people. It wasn't long before I felt like I was getting the third degree. "Oh, you grew up here? What church have you been attending?" (Um, was I supposed to be attending church somewhere? I suspected that "I've spent the last several years worshiping by the pool" wasn't going to be the right answer.) Mercifully, it soon became time for class to begin. I don't remember for sure, but it seems like we prayed for the lost and for those who should be in church but aren't. It was my worst nightmare and I couldn't wake myself up. The nightmare continued when the teacher got up and talked about what an awful year it had been for many in the class as she introduced the guest for the day, the director of the Baptist women's shelter. Oh, yeah, I was going to get up and run as soon as class was over because I definitely wasn't like those people.

So I spent another 6 months hiding out in the balcony. Of course now I recognized the singles from the class and saw where they sat and vowed not to be part of that group.

Then one Sunday afternoon, a woman in the class who was trying to clean up the roll called me. Singles classes have a difficult time with the roll because a lot of people join, attend a time or two, and then move on. Some go to other churches, some move out of town, and some eventually marry. But their names remain on the roll as some kind of tribute to The Sunday They Attended Your Class.

So my name was one of many on the Singles 2 roll who had attended once or twice. She invited me to the Halloween party. Dear God in heaven, was that nightmare Sunday from April not enough? I told her that I might try to attend, but I wasn't really sure. (The heck I wasn't sure - there was no way I was going to a singles Halloween party. Yikes!)

Then she noticed my address was about a block from where the class was starting a weeknight Bible study that week. God was clearly leading, because even though that wasn't something I would normally have wanted to do, I asked her for the address and the time. More than that, when the night came, I actually went.

I recognized most of the group from that ill-fated Sunday 6 months earlier, although this time there was actually a girl there in her mid-20s. The Singles 1 class had folded a few months before and been mixed with the Singles 2 class (which still included the 45+ crowd), and while most of the twenties ran for the hills, a few brave souls stuck it out. And that night as we all visited together, studied Romans together, and prayed together, something happened. I realized that people are people, and regardless of where we come from, we're all pretty much alike. So it turned out that I was like those people, after all.

The next Sunday, I made my second visit to Singles 2. My preconceived notions were gone, and my mind and my heart were open to what God was doing in my life. And that's how I made the leap from hiding in the balcony to becoming part of a church family. And those people who were at the Bible study that night? They're still my friends nearly 17 years later. More than friends, really, they're like my family.

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