The man at the entrance handed me a bulletin from the top of a large stack. He gave a vacant smile—a smile saved up all week long for Sunday strangers. His eyes focused somewhere just above and to the right of my forehead. It made me wonder if there was a fly caught in my hair.
The music grew louder as I crossed the foyer and entered through one of the sets of heavy double doors to the sanctuary. Slipping into a back pew, I glanced around. The church was old with dark mahogany and stained glass, the pulpit a million miles away.
The congregation was in the middle of a song, led by a golden-robed choir with bright faces and sure voices. At the close of the song, a smile in a suit encouraged the people to spend a few moments greeting those around them. The lady in front of me, broad and floral, turned from side to side and finally back to me. She was evangelical with cleavage. “How are you? God bless,” and just like that she was gone, apparently seeking out the more familiar. My words caught on my teeth, then hung there with nowhere to go.
I sat alone. I listened. I left alone.
How could I have sat with so many of you and yet felt so alone—so unknown? How could I have breathed your breath and still felt so apart? Why so present, yet so separate?
How is it possible week after week to approximate intimacy, and yet week after week to come and go—untouched, unloved. There are those of us who move outside the circle, cosmically alone.
To us, community is a guarded jewel judiciously given out in sparse neat packages. Fellowship is a hidden mystery that as refugees from the outside, we can only glimpse at with longing.
If we are a community of believers—the body of Christ—then when you touch me, you touch Christ. When you welcome me, you welcome Christ. I am no angel, but this morning I visited your church, and you entertained me unaware.
(The above story is fiction, but not. It happened to me, though the details are different; and it happens far too often in far too many places. The stained glass is from the church where I grew up in Ontario, Canada. No one felt like a Sunday Stranger there mainly because of my hospitable and loving Mom.)