These are my stories.
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)
I moved out, followed a boy halfway across the country, loved him, married him. We spent our first three years together in our Heart Church, the one that just won't let us go. Or maybe it's that we won't let it go, maybe it has become in our minds something So Much Bigger than it truly was, because all I remember is that it was good.
* * *
I chose that church before I'd even arrived. I browsed the websites of every Anglican church in the area - all one hundred and twenty-seven of them - not sure what I was looking for but looking for something all the same.
I remember when I clicked on the website of the church that would end up stealing our hearts. The page opened and I knew, knew immediately and without a doubt, that this would be our church home. That's the one, I heard it almost audibly. It was only halfway through the list but I persisted, told myself I was being silly to be so certain, there might be another one. I got to the end of the list and still I knew that I had found it.
* * *
We were alone in that new city. The first holiday arrived - was it Thanksgiving? - and we prepared to spend it on our own. But then came an unexpected invitation from our minister, join us, and we did. Their house was full of young people who had no other place to go, and I marvelled at this unexpected gift. I was used to the minister being invited into others' homes; I wasn't used to a minister who invited us instead.
* * *
I wish I could put into words the things that caused this church to plant itself so firmly in our hearts and minds. Was it the diversity of people - young and old, married and single, different backgrounds and languages and all the rest? Was it our minister, his verse-by-verse expository preaching, the way we left each week feeling as though we had learned something new? Was it the sense of friendly welcome? Was it their passion, passion for those outside of the church, for discipleship within the church, for those in need? I truly don't know.
No, wait. I think I do. It was their Love and the way it encompassed everything else.
* * *
It wasn't perfect, though (then again, neither were we). I carried a secret within me as we walked through those doors, but some secrets can't be hidden for long. They politely averted their eyes, said nothing, pretended along with us that nothing was out of the ordinary. He proposed, I accepted, we had marriage counselling there, and still through it all the subject never arose.
Seven months later, we flew back to our childhood home for our wedding. We came back to church the following week, wedding rings on and congratulations all around.
And suddenly they could talk about it. "Oh, when are you due? Congratulations! How exciting!" I felt defensive for my child - could this growing life only now be acknowledged? Was he or she only now worthy? I resented both their former silence and their sudden interest, while my new husband was more gracious, assuring me they were only being polite and tactful. He saw the best in their intentions when I could only see the worst.
* * *
But the past became the past and I grew to love those people. Our minister and his quiet wife, their ten children from the very little to the grown and married. Another beautiful family of eleven; the husband talked tech with my husband while the wife took me under her wing, showing me that hospitality required only an open door, not perfection. I marvelled at her calm, her gentle grace, her beautiful children who acted so very much like children, polite and yet wildly carefree. Others, too, young families like ours, older couples whose children had left, newlyweds who played with our baby. They were beautiful, all of them.
* * *
I remember the red carpet. Us parents and our babies gathered back there, behind the rows of pews seating the rest of the congregation, and from there we listened to the sermon while the little ones rolled and crawled and pulled themselves up. We pushed pamphlets out of their reach and swept crayons out of their mouths.
I loved that red carpet. I loved that beautiful church. I loved her beautiful people.
To be continued...