The first time was in Erwin TN. It was a very small, dying church. It began with 6 people at the front singing 4 hymns, never making eye contact with the 11 people sitting in the congregation (5 of them being first time visitors - all thru-hikers). They didn't give us page numbers so we could sing along. We just sat and watched them sing. Then the preacher did his thing, in his frenetic, judgmental style. And he went on and on until someone broke down in tears, begging for repentance at the altar. Not to mention, the preacher completely misquoted scripture to make his point. I left there with tears on my cheeks as I was praying for my fellow thru-hikers to not condemn all of Christianity based on that service.
The second service was in Waynesboro VA. It was a small, but growing church. Nondenominational. In a strip mall. They served coffee. It was full of young families. Drums, electric guitar, bass (but not too loud). All the stuff I'm used in my church back home. People talked to me and the other hikers I brought with me. We were welcomed. And yet, sitting in someplace that felt so familiar, comfortable, and homey, I felt out of place. It was like I was an observer just passing through. In many ways, that's exactly what I was. But I wasn't just watching THEIR service. I was witnessing the changes in ME. The changes that realized that all that vibrant, hip, modern, cool way of doing things was not where it was. It was church, and it was structured, and it... just didn't quite fit me anymore. Well, to realize it never really DID fit me, but now, it was even more so. God is cool, I love Jesus, and I really don't have anything against the church as a whole (in fact, I support it), but, somehow, I still don't know how to fit in. I liked what I saw them doing and what i heard them saying, but somehow, again, I was changing.
The next service was during Trail Days in Damascus VA. One of the churches offered food and activities throughout the festival. In the evenings they would have a live band out front playing covers of classic vinyl, 60's, and country/bluegrass. It was fabulous, and I brought several hikers in to dance and party. After that band was done, they invited us for more "live music" in the back room. OK, I knew that it was going to be a worship service, but they didn't tell anyone that. I tried to tell a couple people what they were walking into, but it didn't sink in on time. We all got back there, and after the first two songs, they started to realize they had been duped into attending a religious service. Don't get me wrong - it was very much like the worship in Waynesboro - modern music, lyrics on the screens to sing along with, dessert and lemonade in the back, even lighting cues. But my hiker-buds were tricked into it. By the third song, they were mocking those trying to worship. I took a step back, away from everyone. I didn't like that the Christians had not been forthright in inviting hikers to a worship set. I didn't like that the hikers responded with open mockery. I was caught in the middle, understanding both sides, wanting both sides to see each other for the good they were, and in that moment, seeing the flaws in both. What to do? I decided to start singing along in worship. The lyrics were "Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest." One hiker saw me and walked over. "Are you a church girl?" I said that I was for all practical purpose though that's not the phrase I usually choose. "Can I ask you a question?" Sure, I say. Pause. And then what I deem to be a completely honest question. "Who is Hosanna?" Huh, um, yeah. This chorus I'm singing would make no sense to anyone outside of a certain knowledge level of church-goers. So I explain it's a Hebrew word that is a exclamation of praise, much like the word "Hallelujah" is often used - both religiously and secularly. Ah, he says, thanks. And then all the hikers decide at once to leave. They've had enough. They don't ask if I want to go with them because, well, I don't truly belong in that group either. But I follow. I'm somewhere in no-man's land between church and hiker trash.
The last service I went to was the day before I left the Trail in Rangeley Maine. It was a small, mainline church. Traditional music, robes, acolytes, pulpits. The woman pastor explained the meaning of the color change in the linens on the altar - they had entered "ordinary time" after pentecost and before advent (google the liturgical calendar if this intrigues you). We sang hymns accompanied by a piano. The regular piano player was out on vacation and the pastor thanked the gal who stepped in as back up. Then something unusual happened. The pastor had three different people get up from the congregation and share how God had transformed their life... instead of a sermon! After the service, Odie and I were invited to the coffee hour afterward which was a celebration for a person who was moving out West and leaving their congregation. To be honest, I can't say that I agree or disagree with this particular church's doctrine or theology - they didn't go deeply into anything that day. Perhaps that is a flaw. But what I did see was a community where people were genuinely acknowledged, allowed to share and be celebrated. They spoke of personal God-stuff. They laughed and cried together. Yeah, that's what I wanted. That's where I want to belong.
I know I only saw two hours into the life of that church, and every community has it's flaws. Being back home in my church now, I am reminded of why I like my church, but also how I've changed and don't quite fit back in yet, or how I have never completely fit in. It's not something wrong with the church, it's just I haven't adapted to their hike again. I long to be hiker trash AND a part of the church. I long to live all the facets of who God made me to be AND be fully accepted by a group of people who love Jesus they way I do. Somehow, I always just find myself standing in between, on the fringe of, but never truly a part of any group. Maybe I'm too much the devil's advocate, always running to the opposite side of a listing ship.
I'm sure my feelings say more about me than it does the church or anywhere else I'd like to be on the fringe of. But I'm also guessing maybe this is how most people feel - they're just looking for a place to belong. They want to be all of who they are and still be accepted. I know that can happen with Jesus; that's been my experience. I'm just not sure it can ever fully happen with humans. So, I keep standing in between with everyone else who doesn't fit in. Maybe that, in and of itself, can be a community. Hmmmm.
|No church here, but I did sleep in this "sanctuary" at the hostel in Hot Springs NC. Just me and Odie on a pile of yoga mats in the middle of the floor.|
|I forgot I went to this church service on the porch of someone's home in Hot Springs NC. This was a cool service too.|