I hear her talking from across the coffee shop. I’ve seen her there before, circled close to the same group of older gentlemen clutching coffee cups. They come here often to talk about the latest headlines, their medical problems, the grandkids, and, occasionally, their faith. As a serial eavesdropper, my ears fine-tune to the tenor of their conversation, and I listen in.
Sometimes their conversation turns to the topic of church, more specifically their problems with it as an institution. This particular morning, my ears perk up when the talk turns from the New York Times to the local church. The woman speaks up, explaining her discomfort with attending services because people ask her too many questions about her choices. “I have more fuzzy feelings here, with you, than I do at church,” she says. They nod along. They hear her.
I write this down and I think about her words for a long time. The good girl in me, the weekly church attendee, bristles at her assumption that the purpose of church is to elicit fuzzy feelings. I want to say in my most haughty, judgmental voice, “The purpose of church is to worship, to grow, and to come together as a community, as one body working together to further the kingdom of God.” I might add, “There’s something to be said for accountability, lady.”
I dismiss this voice. This is the voice most people hear when they think of The Institution of Church. Instead, I tune my ears to the voice of compassion. The voice deep down inside me that says,
“What kind of community do we build when people can’t come as they are? When they can’t stand in front of us, lugging their baggage and their questionable choices behind them?”
This is the same voice that makes it hard for me to show up myself on some Sundays. I have enough emotional baggage to fill a Santa sack, and I need a safe place to lay it down, an altar that relieves me from the weight of it.
I don’t want to simply attend church, ticking the box on the good Christian girl agenda. <<Click to Tweet
I am weary of church for church’s sake. I want to be the Church.
I want to be someone’s safe place, a place of compassion and understanding and grace. I want to help them carry their own sack of sorrows and unanswered questions and consequences to the altar, so together we can leave our baggage there. I want to be this safe place, and I want others to be this safe place for me.
I think this is what she means when she speaks of the fuzzy feelings. She wants somewhere to belong, and this coffee shop—this circle of elderly men with listening ears and myriad health complaints, this eavesdropping writer scribbling words in the corner—is her place of belonging. The conversation moves on, but I stop listening. I caught a glimpse of what church can be, and in her words, I linger.
Kimberly Coyle is a writer, mother, and gypsy at heart. She tells stories of everyday life while raising a family, and shares her faith on her blog. She writes from the suburbs of New Jersey, where she is learning how to put down roots that stretch further than the nearest airport.