I've mentioned before that I've been attending two of the churches in our small town each Sunday. Stay with me here, I'm not trying to persuade you, my dear readers, to do what I'm doing. I want to tell you what I've discovered about myself in the process.
How many times have my long-time readers seen on my blog the phrase "I'm a loner"? Surely I've typed it into a few entries. I've mentioned it many times on Facebook, and I tell people the same thing face to face. But I'm learning something about myself during these last few months: I may not be so much a loner as simply "socially awkward".
Oh, I do value my alone time. Growing up, I learned to enjoy my own company. Throughout my first eight years in rural Iowa, there weren't many opportunities to play with other children. Until I was five, I was my own best friend, and had no problem with that. So once I started going to the one-room schoolhouse, I was already somewhat peculiar. I know this because other kids didn't flock around me at recess. One little girl told me I talked too loud (I still do, but at least that trait now serves a purpose, since Cliff is about half deaf). Isn't it strange how a seventy-five-year-old woman would remember such things, and isn't it peculiar how it still hurts just a little?
And that's how the Internet drew me in. I discovered a Christian chat room on AOL and made friends there. Sometimes I even felt like the life of the party. We began having chat reunions and met one another in person, so some of our Internet friends became real-life friends. Many of those kind people have died now, but I still have Joanna, whom I claim as a sister. We don't talk often, but we are there for one another when we are going through things. I spent a week with her in her home near Washington, DC, and saw some of the local sites I would never have seen, if not for her. She is much more than an "Internet friend".
The chat room group gradually disbanded; I left AOL. Many years later, Facebook happened, and I re-connected with some of my old friends and made some new ones... online friends, that is, but there was once again that feeling that "somebody knows I'm here". I went crazy, really. A person can be very social online, and turn off the party when she's had enough. I didn't have to clean house or entertain people to have a social life! It was an ideal situation, I thought.
All it really amounted to was this: somebody knew I was alive.
It's worked pretty well for me all these years, but after stepping into these two small-town churches, I've realized something: It's nice to have some real people to talk to, people who are glad to see me every time I walk through the door because when there are only fifteen of them, one person makes a big difference in the size of a crowd.
I'll have to skip the Methodist Church this morning because the Baptist Church is having their Thanksgiving dinner after the service. I'm taking Old Settler's beans, Cliff, and Heather, the grandson's wife. Yes, Cliff volunteered to go to church this Sunday. Why? Because the preacher's wife said to tell him to come in and eat with us, since he comes to pick me up at church anyway.
Cliff likes to eat, you know. However, he said he didn't feel right just walking in for a meal. So he is going to church too. It'll be a one-time thing, I imagine, but at least the folks can meet the mysterious stranger who, along with my dog, is always waiting for me in the car after church. I do hate being absent from the Methodist Church today, because I've made a friend who sits in the pew behind me every Sunday. She was a school-teacher long ago. We have some nice chats. Her name is Patty. She knows a lot about the history of Wellington. Three generations of her family have attended that church. She likes sitting behind me because she enjoys looking at my naturally curly hair, which makes her think about her curly-haired brother when he was a child.
As all these thoughts were running through my mind this morning, the theme song from "Cheers" came to mind. Now, I didn't know all the lyrics to that song, although I never missed an episode of the show. But I did recall the words in the title: "Where everybody knows your name".
And that, my friends, is what draws me back to two churches of differing denominations every Sunday. Not all my beliefs line up with either congregation, but it seems like God is in both of them, small in numbers as they are. I keep my mouth shut about theological differences, because my opinion, after all, is just another opinion. That and a dollar might buy you a cup of coffee. But after sitting at home on Sunday for years or else going to larger churches where I felt invisible, there are two places where I am welcomed heartily and everybody knows my name... make that three. And many of the people at a fourth one might vaguely remember me.