Why I’ll miss church in the city

More news on this later, but a move is in the works for me and Erik, and a move that means I won’t be doing church in the city anymore for awhile.

Working at a big church on a busy corner in the city means that you are constantly in the mix with any possible cocktail of the human condition—dogding slow-moving tourists when you’re in a hurry, smiling at the panhandler on our corner who comes daily with his dog, wondering at the amount of money some people will spend on shoes—and all of that mix comes into the church, too—to gawk at the great stained glass, rest a few minutes (or more) in the pews, go to AA meetings, stop by on church business.

On Sunday, I had two huge reminders of what I’ll miss. After the morning services, a new deacon who had just finished his shift in the narthex giving tours and answering questions caught me at the receptionist desk, wondering about locking up the church. As a deacon, he’s likely one of our more experienced and connected members. But he was fairly surprised that the doors would stay open, and people could continue to come in and mill around the sanctuary for the rest of the day. A locked church sends the wrong message. It is a gift to be at a church that keeps its doors unlocked, where you might run into anyone taking a moment to pray or rest.

And then there was vespers. Halfway through the service, I had to break up a little altercation between two women in the communion line. It seems one had stepped on the other’s foot. Both women didn’t have the emotional resources to let an incident like this just slide, and so had descended into shout-whispers demanding apologies,  casting blame. (A good reminder, I thought, that even those of us with a bit more emotional control probably would say some pretty nasty things about our fellow travellers in the communion line if our social controls didn’t hold us back.) It turned out just fine. One woman just needed a hand on her shoulder, reassurance that she was safe, and a few extra feet between her and the other. The other woman needed to talk it out a bit longer (although, her reasoning was incoherent, evidenced by the moment when she claimed to be an assistant pastor and threatened to have security throw me out of the sanctuary!).

All of these people, thrown into the mix of church together, and all there because somehow they want to experience God. It’s seems so easy when the church is on a busy pedestrian corner. Everyone just drops in. Human life and experience seems completely concentrated.

I have to remember that this is true in any church, even in different settings. My ten week summer assignment during seminary was in a working-class suburban church of thirty people, and that was often more intense than the city church. The suburban churches I’ve worked in truly had an amazing level of emotion and bustle, and even a great amount of drama and God-hunger once you got to know them.

And my new church will have all of thesethings I love about ministry, only in different ways than every other church I’ve worked at.