First Published October 7, 2014, on Leah's former blog, "Being in Berkeley".
Our baby church is now about a month old. We've now met as a group on four different Sundays, and as I write this, I'm still in the after-glow of our last meeting, filled with wonder at what seems to be taking place in our midst. I've had many hopes for this little baby church through the years; hopes and dreams that I have often wondered if they'd ever become realities. Perhaps its my personality, some sort of skeptical streak, or just an effect of me being in my mid-to-late thirties, but I don't have the assurance I might have had once that whatever I hope for will come to pass if I just apply myself. Naming dreams, setting goals, crafting strategies - all of those are really important in the quest to live a life of intentionality and meaning, but none of them assure the outcome. There are just too many complicating possibilities, even in the journey of faith.
One positive benefit of living this way is that when things I was hoping for actually come to pass, I'm kind of pleasantly shocked. Some might say this shows a disappointing lack of faith, though I don't really think God sees it that way. To Him, I'm probably just easy to please. I often genuinely feel surprised when a prayer is answered, like I just discovered that God is real all over again. Maybe I just did.
This is the way I've been feeling lately about this baby church. It's true, we had an awkward start. It was sweet-awkward, kind of like a first-date, that just has to be muddled-through without any major disasters so that those involved could get comfortable enough with each other to move on to the easier, the deeper, the more real. But already, a month later the awkwardness seems to be giving way to the refreshing hope of budding friendship amongst us. I find myself surprised by the anticipation expressed by my new friends for the Sunday gathering, I feel the anticipation myself, and then the satisfaction of our little community being together again is realized when everyone arrives and the party commences.
I'm surprised by the festive nature of our gatherings. I love that people seem to genuinely enjoy talking to each other, getting to know one another, sharing a meal together. Jason was especially delighted to hear that one couple looks forward to each Sunday because they know with Jason's cooking of the main dishes, and the other food each guest will contribute, this is going to be one of the best meals of the week. We love that folks want to linger as the meal wraps up, and they do, until we all reluctantly have to return to Sunday evening obligations.
I'm surprised, too, by the ways our stories are already strangely woven together, though we've known each other only weeks. This weekend's meeting was the most wonderful kind of worlds-colliding experience. In one corner was a young woman who had arrived from Iowa a few days before. We had known each other for years through our church in Iowa City; we had even dreamed of the time that she might somehow some day join us in California as we built a church. And now, through seemingly unrelated circumstances, she had mysteriously been sent on a six-week internship to the Bay. (Here's hoping it might pan out into something more long-term...)
Across the room was another couple of Iowa natives, though we had never never met them there, as they've been in California for more than a decade. We have recently connected with this couple because we are related by marriages: the woman is the sister of Jason's older brother's wife (could you follow that?), closely related to the same dear family members in Chicago that we sincerely miss, Ivan and Shanel.
During the meeting, a young scientist, who has recently moved with his wife from North Carolina, tells his story of coming to faith in the living room of another of Jason's brothers. The Seek class that he was taking, hosted by my North Carolina brother-in-law, Brendan, featured videos of teachings by Dave Schmelzer, who had developed the class while lead pastor of the Greater Boston Vineyard where another of our new group made a meaningful connection with Jesus as a graduate student in Cambridge. And I could go on...
I had dreamed we'd be a multi-ethnic group and we are. I had dreamed we'd have artists and academics and activists and we do. I had dreamed we'd have folks who've had a hard time in some traditional churches, but have had good experiences with Jesus and want to follow that further, and we do. I didn't expect to find all of these things in a group of a dozen or so adults, but we have.
Now, the skeptic in me is still alive-and-well and aware that things can change at any moment. Other shoes can drop; they usually do at some point. Folks can move away as quickly as they've moved here, or others may decide that what we're doing isn't quite what they are looking for right now. I'm ok with that.
But today I'm standing in the wonder. There has been a lot of grief in the last year. There have been unexpected challenges, as well as unanticipated victories. There has been deep, deep loss leaving the community we adored; loss that I have difficulty even putting into words because it is so visceral and raw, even now. And while we have been willing to stay the course, to do what was necessary, whatever the cost, to be obedient to what we sensed God was inviting us into, there's something that I've discovered lately that I honestly wasn't anticipating. More than anything else so far I think it's taken me by surprise and made me wonder once again at the thought that God really is in our midst.
I didn't expect to find joy.