One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to find a local church and attend Sunday service. It’s really helpful to be reminded that church – and God – is bigger and more layered than just my church (love it though I do). Going to church in different cities, especially outside the US, is like adding different shades and textures and layers of color to the picture I’m painting of God, of community, of the body of Christ. It’s good for me to remember that my church’s way of doing things is just that – one way. My Sunday morning experience at City Church San Francisco is one tiny dot in the mosaic of the body of Christ – a beautiful dot, heavily pigmented with the color and laughter and tears and prayers of the hundreds of people who I am deeply thankful to do life and community and church with – but one dot nonetheless.
I was researching churches to visit while in London (no small task- there are loads!) and came across an Anglican church called Saint James. Their mission statement caught my eye “We seek to be an inclusive, welcoming and adventurous Christian community, honouring God and one another – and we’re keen to change the world, starting with ourselves.” Um, can I get a freaking AMEN!?!? Also, you had me at “keen” #BritishChurchGoals.
Thanks to some London tube adventures, I was running 15 minutes late and was tempted to just skip it, embarrassed to walk into a new church late. But I reminded myself that I’m working on accepting that I can’t do everything perfectly, and that I don’t want to miss out on experiences because I can’t do them perfectly.
So I snuck in 15 minutes late and was greeted warmly by a smiling, white-haired British lady at the door and slipped into a wooden pew just as the priest began his sermon. He had the congregation laughing two minutes in, his dry British humor, infused with warmth, highlighting what it means to be human, to yearn for love and connection, to try to be the person you do desperately want to be and to fail, and to be met with God’s love and grace in the process.
I admit I’m biased to put extra weight behind anything someone with a British accent says, but he was so sincere and winsome with his words, it felt like hearing Truth with a capital T – the dulcet tones of his accent were really just the icing on the cake [clotted cream on the scone??]
After the sermon came the part of a church service I most dread when I’m new – communion. Every church does it differently, and I always get hit with a serious case of #communionanxiety that I’m going to do it wrong. Do I take the bread and wine right away, or wait until everyone has been served and take it all together back at our seats? Do I dip the wafer into the chalice of wine, or take a sip directly from the cup? [and try not to think about how in no other circumstance would I drink out of the same cup as 100+ people #germaphobenightmare]. We took it in the round, forming a semi-circle at the altar so we could see one another, and it was beautiful.
I’ve heard Brené Brown say that she goes to church for two reasons – to receive communion and to pass the peace with people she would never invite to a dinner party. I think that is so beautiful. During the passing of the peace, as I shook hands with total strangers all around me, I knew nothing about their political beliefs or personalities, their socio-economic status or their secrets. I didn’t know if I’d love chatting with them over coffee after the service or be counting down the seconds until I could exit the conversation. My opinion of them – and theirs of me – was wholly irrelevant. It was a holy moment to say aloud to a stranger “Peace be with you” and mean it, to bless them not because I like them or they tell funny jokes or we have some sort of shared history but simply because, as a person made in the image of God, they are beloved and worthy of that blessing.
At the end of the service, the priest invited us to lay a hand on the shoulder of the person next to us as we received the Benediction, and my eyes filled with tears as I placed my hand on a stranger’s shoulder and felt the weight of a stranger’s hand on mine, a physical manifestation of our connectedness to each other, as the Body of Christ, yes, but also as the human family. We belong to each other.
This morning I was back home at City Church, and I passed the peace with a room full of people I know and love, and I was deeply grateful for that sense of community and belonging. I served wine at communion, and I spoke aloud to strangers and friends the same sentence “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” It was deeply meaningful to speak the same truth aloud to folks I’ve never met before and some of my dearest friends, to children and their parents and grandparents, to folks from all sorts of different backgrounds, carrying all sorts of different stories. To be reminded yet again that the same truth connects us all – we are all loved, we are all worthy, and we belong to each other.