It’s been a few months since I went to church. The last time was a Unitarian church, and now that I think about it, it was actually almost a year ago. Asbury United is a smallish church a few blocks from my house, and most of the members seem to have been members for decades.
I’ll post more about it as I think about it. But the first and most important thing is what happened after I sat down in a pew close to the back of the church. A man named Gary stopped next to me and asked if he’d seen me before. (He hadn’t, but several other people asked the same thing. Either my doppelganger attends Asbury United or that’s a good pickup line — in the new-member sense of that phrase, of course — at church.) Anyway, not only did he shake hands, say hello, introduce himself, and introduce me to his wife — who was similarly welcoming — he invited me to sit with them. I did so, and they were friendly and welcoming throughout. Also, so many people wanted to introduce themselves afterward that I had trouble getting back to Gary and Ruth to say thank you!
Now, I’ve been to church here and there all my life, and people have said hi in a friendly way at times. But nobody has ever invited me to sit with them. And not only is this unusual in my experience, it’s unusual in Minnesota, where folks tend to be a little less likely to talk to strangers.
To me, whatever the difficulties I have with belief and doctrine, the real thing of church is the other people. I’ve always loved this quote, from Fr. Robert Arpin, a Catholic priest: “Tell them that they are loved, not by God, but by you. Because the only hands God has to touch them with are your hands. And the only heart God has to love them with is your heart. So rock on, Ruth and Gary of Asbury United. You’re what this church thing is all about.