So. I went to church. It wasn’t horrible.
That was about the extent of what I intended to write about my experience. I felt my blog on Gays versus God was pretty complete and didn’t need a sequel. I went to church and it wasn’t horrible. I wasn’t struck by lightening, I didn’t trip as I walked in the door and slam my head into the altar. I didn’t call down the wrath of God just by being there. The end. Right?
But, of course, it was far more than just “not horrible” and if nothing else, I think I should at least give an honest accounting of the whole experience. But first, I need to explain a little bit about what an agnostic lesbian who writes romantic comedies about lesbians, gays, pot-smoking single moms, and transsexuals is even doing inside of a church.
Here’s what happened. Jenny. I could probably end it at that. I met Jenny and for various reasons, I can honestly say that there is nothing on this planet that I wouldn’t do for her. She asked me to go to church to hear her sermon. So, I did. I’ve written about Jenny a few times before. She sort of seeps into everything I write about religion or the music festival. Jenny is a subject that requires a billion words and I’m not sure if I have the talent to make you understand why I would be standing on the steps of a church in a decent outfit, with my hair combed and a knot in my stomach just because of one women with whom I’m not even having sex. Yeah, she’s that good.
Jenny. Jenny of the strong and joyous faith. Jenny who cooked me oatmeal when I was cold. Jenny who shared her soul with reckless abandon. Jenny who laughed with affection whenever I talked to her. Jenny who calmly challenged every negative thing I said about myself with something positive and irrefutable. Jenny who was completely honest with me from start to finish, no matter how uncomfortable the subject and demanded and received the same from me. Jenny who obviously and unashamedly loves me without judgement or conditions. Jenny who is fun and funny and smart and giving and who also happens to have the ovaries to say out loud, repeatedly, at a womyn’s music festival consisting of a huge amount of wiccans, pagans, non-theists, atheists, and agnostics, “I love God.”
After the festival, as we were chatting on the computer, she said, “Come visit for the weekend,” I thought it would be fantastic. “Come meet my wife and kids.” Excellent idea. “Come meet all of the animals.” I would love it. “Come see our farm.” That would be a fun way for this city girl to spend a weekend. “Come to church with us on Sunday.” Um. Church? The idea made me feel a little sick to my stomach. Still, as I have said… there isn’t a single thing I would not do… so…
“Sure. Church.” I probably sounded about as enthusiastic as I would have sounded about a root canal. Or a colonoscopy.
Now, it isn’t as clear cut as that. Yes, I have had a terrible experience in church and vowed to never set foot in one again. I think there may have been a few f-bombs involved. It’s quite possible I swore at God and told him his followers were a bunch of dicks.
But this wasn’t just about going to church… this was about Jenny giving the sermon. Well, I would be hard pressed to miss an opportunity to hear Jenny give a speech, even if that speech is in a church and all about God. Even if I don’t know anyone there. Even if I don’t know the hymns or the responses or what’s expected of me, or what to wear.
Of course, I had to argue a little.
Me: I won’t know the responses.
Jenny: They’re printed in the program.
Me: Will people ask me strange questions about my beliefs?
Jenny: No, they’ll say “Welcome to St. Paul’s, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Me: Do I have to wear a skirt?
Jenny: You can wear whatever you want. Sometimes I wear dockers and my cookie monster t-shirt.
Me: Do you think I might get struck by lightning?
Jenny: I promise you won’t get struck by lightning.
Me: I said the GD word yesterday.
Jenny: Even so.
It went on like that for some time. Bear in mind, we weren’t debating me coming to church as that was already a given. I was just outlining every single possible anxiety in my head and Jenny was assuaging the worries. Repeatedly. With the patience of a million years.
Fast forward. I’m wearing my dress jeans, a nice shirt, and sandals without holes in them. I’ve combed my hair and put on lip gloss. I’ve given myself a pep talk. I’ve braced myself. I’m ready. Jenny’s wife, Nicole, drives me to church since Jenny had to go for both services. Jenny is in the parking lot when we arrive. I don’t know what’s on my face, but whatever it is moves her to touch my back as I walk past her into the church. I meet her eye. She quietly says, “I’m happy you’re here.” I nod at her without speaking and she smiles. I know she’s thinking, “You’re going to be fine.”
A few people introduce themselves to me and welcome me to the church. Nicole goes off to talk to someone, so Samantha, her teenager daughter takes me into the church to find seats. She opens the hymnal to the first hymn and hands it to me. She points out where the responses are in the program.
People file in. Jenny brings her mother and son over to introduce them. Jenny’s mom is adorable and keeps leaning over to talk to me as the rest of the people are getting ready for the service.
Jenny is wearing her vestments. I feel a little awed. She looks so different. I know that this is my friend. I know this is a person I trust, but I’m suddenly feeling a little awkward for some reason, and I’m glad that there isn’t time to chat before the service.
The service itself is a pretty standard service from what I remember of my semi-church upbringing. The bells ring, a few people read, the congregation stands and sits and stands and sits. There’s no kneeling, thankfully, because I’m getting a bit old for that sort of thing. It isn’t until Jenny stands up to deliver her sermon that things get a little intense.
First a man reads a selection out of the bible, and Jenny does a reflection on it. Then another person reads another selection and she reflects again on that, tying the two together. Finally, Jenny gets up for the last time and reads a scripture. The whole thing to this point was about Christians being called to go out and witness, not even particularly with their words but with their lives. It was about taking in those “fringe” people and making them understand that the word of God doesn’t have to be about hate, but about love and acceptance.
Jenny talks about her own experiences with witnessing and how something told her not to lie about her vocation when she went to the music festival, but to be honest and let the chips fall where they may. She “let it be” and let her own life be a testament to the healing power of a *good* religion. (As a side note: She was absolutely right to do that. She was not mocked, she was not shunned. She was adored by many. Without qualification.)
Jenny is back on the pulpit. She reads my “Gays versus God” blog, out loud, in its entirety to the congregation. She bleeps the word asshole, but she leaves in the word douche at the end. She is a powerful reader and I don’t think anything that I have ever written has sounded as intense and majestic as it did right then, not even something I read myself. She nails it. She nails it big time. Then she improvises. She ties all of the previous readings, the earlier reflections, my blog, and everything else together in one authoritative, strong, powerful, but ultimately loving and joyous sermon that seems to affect everyone in the room. It is only through my sheer force of will that I am able to keep the tears that are in my eyes from escaping down my face.
After the service, Jenny stood by the door so people could talk to her about the service or their lives or whatever people talk to their clergy about. I asked Samantha if we were supposed to go over there, but she said we should just head downstairs. It was good, because I wasn’t ready to open my mouth yet to Jenny. I was afraid I would either start crying, or come out with some huge gushing diatribe about how amazing she was. Neither option was acceptable. I went downstairs and had some coffee. I was perfectly composed by the time she came down. And she was wearing civilian clothes. She was just my friend again.
That was about it. The people were nice to me. The hymns were pretty. The coffee was pretty good. Jenny was beyond amazing. There is a part of me that thinks it is possible that God was thrilling through her while she spoke. Certainly, her faith was shining through everything she said. Personally, whatever I believe or want to believe, I can say with absolute certainty that Jenny has found her calling.
As for me? Well, I don’t know if what I’m looking for is in a church, even one as accepting and loving as that one. I don’t think my search is leading in that direction. I think what I’m looking for is in my writing and my travels and I think as soon as I figure out exactly what it is I am looking for, I will have a lot better luck finding it. Still, there is that little voice in the back of my head that says, “Maybe? Maybe that way lies peace?”
Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t happily and peacefully go to church the next time I visit my friends in Michigan. If nothing else, I’ve had one more lesson in the fact that as much as I chew on things and worry about them and have knots of anxiety about them, they are never as scary as I think they’ll be. I wonder how many times I’ll have to have that lesson rammed down my throat before I start to believe it.