It hadn’t been an easy decision to leave a church I had been a member of for almost 25 years. It wasn’t an out-of-the-blue decision but something I had prayed about for a long time. I was looking for God’s permission to leave, a direct word – “Thou shalt go elsewhere…” but God doesn’t always do things that way. I had been so unhappy for so long and probably did such a good job covering it all up. The church had changed over the years and I had changed too but the paths we felt called to follow were not the same. I did not want to pull them on to my path but neither did I want to follow theirs. It was an amicable parting and we still have a proper going-away celebration to do. They are not a number-counting church family and don’t see themselves as the ONE TRUE church in the city. If folk feel their needs might be better met with another church family they are happy to see them settled elsewhere.
If God grins at all He had a mile wide smile yesterday. I had planned to visit a few churches over the summer holidays and see where I felt settled. My only stipulation was it had to be a church where I wasn’t known. I didn’t want people already slipping me into this church box ministry or the other. I wanted a new start, to be unknown and welcomed as a stranger and then they could get to know me, if I stayed, and slot me into a ministry, if I stayed.
I stepped through the door. The steward wasn’t known to me – a good start.
“Mel?” I was enveloped in an embrace with a lady who I hadn’t seen for at least ten years. I knew her face and tried to hunt down her name from the memory. My husband said later (he had gone to St Mary’s, Rome, across the river) “We went round her house for a meal. You took her to the Black Isle show!” That doesn’t guarantee a name! Her husband gravely shook my hand and asked “Is Joe not with you?”
“Mel?” I turned around for another hug. The lady was one of twins. I know them both but need to have them both in front of me to know for sure who is who. “No Joe?” she added
“Mel?” This plan of being unknown was rapidly unravelling. The pastor’s wife is a regular at our fortnightly poetry nights at the Sunset Café. She was delighted to see me and did the “Joe not with you?” routine. I couldn’t help spilling the information that he was scared of her! He had net her once at the poetry night and found her to be more than a little overwhelming. They were on opposite sides of the Scottish Independence vote and vocal with it.
“Mel?” The lady serving coffees behind the counter was someone I knew from the “Women Aglow” meetings held every month. She didn’t ask me about Joe having never met him.
“Mel?” I was standing with a cup of tea when the next person sidled up. “Written any more poetry?” It was the pastor this time who made it to the Sunset Café once in a while.
Finally I sat down. I chose not to sit next to any of the people who knew me.
The man in front of me turned around.
“Do we know each other? I think we have met.”
I bit my tongue to stop myself from commenting that if he didn’t know me he would be one of the few people in the room that didn’t. Everyone else seemed to know me.
“It’s possible.” I said vaguely. I thought about all the fingers in all the pies I had in various things about the city and various people that had been in my old church at one time or another and who had left decades ago. It was possible.
“Millburn!” he said triumphantly. He did his probationary year in the Tech department of my school a few year ago. He was teaching in a different school now, enjoying the job, enjoying the holiday and about to head off to Romania for three weeks to join his parents on the mission field.
The meeting ticked all the boxes. The worship stirred my spirit and made me quietly cry. I felt myself unwinding slowly and the stress of the last couple of years defused. The word preached challenged me to really be still and to listen to God. I can be still, but I don’t always listen. It made me want to go back next week and share with the pastor what I had heard God say in those still moments.
I felt as if I had fallen not among thieves, like the man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or among thorns, like the seed in the parable of the Sower. I had fallen among friends. Not such a bad place fall.