The rows are sparse, there are not many people on a given day, but we are clustered together, leaning in to one another to whisper our thoughts or scrawl little notes in the margins of each other’s Bibles. There are some people who wear dresses or dress shirts with ties, some people might wear a dressy-casual attire, there are a few who come in jeans and t-shirts, but there are no cliques among us. Looking out at us, one could see us in an array of colors of diversity, we all are starkly unique from the rest. There are large families that sit together, single moms with a few children in tow, young families that have a baby or two with them, young adults that cluster near each other, and excited middle schoolers that have just graduated from “little kid class.” We are an informal group; we are not afraid to poke good fun at each other, we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves.
The man is at the podium, most days in khakis with a button-up shirt. He usually wears a smile that can easily turn into a smirk whenever he attempts to make a joke. Attempting meaning that he makes a joke, and after a long moment of silence our sound man will play a track of crickets chirping, and then we all laugh. He takes a moment to laugh at himself along with us and returns to the story. I pretend I am immune to his jokes, but you see I find puns funny seemingly against my will. He’ll take time in his sermon to share something from his life that proves, contrary to what we would like to believe, that pastors deal with the same struggles we do. He’ll rub his bald head tiredly as he points out a convicting area of scripture, he’ll laugh at the unexpected triumph a character in the story had. The man at the podium is my dad, and he stands there every sunday morning reading and teaching from his Bible. I lost track of how many times he’s bought a new Bible because his has fallen apart—his favorite pages slipping out, running out of room to write in the margins, and having to duct tape the binding together—and most times I find myself getting lost in the words as well. Whether the teaching is on an Old Testament prophet called to tell Israel their sin or a widow putting her two mites into the offering cup because it’s all she has, the sermon never fails to both convict and encourage me.
After he is done teaching, my brother steps up to the podium with a guitar in his hand; he is going to lead us in one last song to end the sermon. His voice carries throughout the sanctuary, singing out the words that wash over us as praises to our Savior. His voice is high and happy, filled with a kind of emotion that nobody could be immune to. He often dresses down, almost opposite my dad. At twenty-five he wears t-shirts he’s had since high school from various church camps and simple blue jeans. He is an excellent worship leader and a gifted teacher. He usually closes his eyes and strums the guitar he’s known and loved since middle school and we all stand and worship together, singing out praise songs together. The last song of the service is most often the most meaningful to me because it is after I have heard what God has said to me through my dad, the pastor, and I am ready to start a new week in light of what I had just learned.
After the service is over we go out into the foyer for coffee and fellowship. Fellowship comes from a Greek word that means communion, contribution, and distribution. We stand together with coffee in our hands as we share about our week, about what God taught us, about how it was encouraging or discouraging or eye-opening or hard. We listen to others share and perhaps we’ll offer advice or encouragement. I have seen many people prayed over during fellowship, sometimes I’m in the group praying and sometimes I’m the one being prayed over. We laugh together, we cry together, we might share deep things, we might share light things, but we are always there for each other. We commune together, we contribute to each other’s lives, we distribute our thoughts. We are a church, but we are also a family.
I am close to everyone that goes to my church, the older adults are like my grandparents, the middling adults are like my aunts and uncles, the young adults are my brothers and sisters, and the young children running around are my nieces and nephews or my little brothers and sisters. I feel comfortable enough to share the hard things I’m going through and I love to praise and rejoice with my family. I believe that church is about people coming together to praise God, read the Bible and hear the pastor’s teaching, and fellowship together. I feel as though my church fulfills all of these, and church is the place I always feel the most comfortable.
I am the most content at church because it is full of people who care for me and who I care for, it is a place of learning and growing, and it is full of God. As soon as I walk into that building I feel God’s presence as if he was there with us, sitting next to me as we begin worship, lending a comforting shoulder as I cry about the struggles in my life, there with us as we pray for one another, standing amongst us as we share with one another. I can’t imagine going many sundays together without once going to church. I hear the Word of God and it teaches me, I commune with my fellow believers and it encourages me, I worship God in song and it blesses me. Every sunday feels like a family reunion. My church is like my home to me, and I find that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.