Sunday Stranger

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.)

About apronheadlilly

wife and mother, musician, composer / poet, teacher, and observer of the world, flawed Christ-follower
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23 Responses to Sunday Stranger

  1. randallslack says:

    Unfortunately, Lilly, your post is spot on. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Sunday morning in a new church is the most loneliest time of all.

    • Yup. this came out of an experience in Hollywood where I was already feeling lonely and in over my head. I visited this church, even more than once, and no one ever tried to make me feel welcome. 😦

  2. The stained glass window is awesome, so colorful and inspiring. Beautiful post! It’s interesting to read your description.

  3. peacenikkie says:

    This story sad but true. What is it with

    • peacenikkie says:

      Sorry…Android problems. What is with us (speaking of “Christians” as a whole) that we often find it difficult to step out of our “comfort zone” when in circumstances such as these? I think partly it’s because we “act” as we are expected to act and are not really genuine in our words and actions that often come as a result of our own insecurities rather than a genuine love and caring for that “newcomer” who just wants to feel “welcome” in a new worship environment

      Thanks for a gentle reminder, Lilly. I think we’d all do well to reflect on this and indulge in a little self-examination. (I love the Evangelical with cleavage!)


      • We can become so “me” oriented that we don’t see what other people need. If we really believe we are Christ’s body, our prime directive should be love to fellow believers and non– alike!

  4. ktlee says:

    Really enjoyed this as I’m currently working on a very personal, similar snippet that I’m experiencing in my life. This really hit home for me today . . . thank you for sharing. It’s comforting, albeit frustrating, to know that others feel this same way as well.

  5. Jeannie says:

    Yes, this is so true Lilly. I have been in this situation more times than I care to remember. I think the body has become to comfortable and if you will, complacent. Whatever happened to going the extra mile? We are to be examples of Christ to the world. How can be truly be that when we are unable to be examples to one another as believers? Thanks for your posts Lilly and the time you take to write them.

    Jeannie 🙂

  6. randallslack says:

    We have been in Tomball 7 months. W started attending a little church (about 250) about 1 month after getting here. We went for 4 months, and really tried to get to know people. But they always gravitated back to their “comfort zone.” We have been gone now for 2 months, and got a text from one person (not in leadership). The pastor wouldn’t give me the time of day. When I asked him about it, he said that it wasn’t personal, just that he was occupied with other things. So, we are without a church again…

    No wonder visitors want to sit in the back row.

  7. clpollock says:

    I have experienced something similar. Not the way it should be!

  8. I won’t say much about our situation here, but it reminds me again and again that we are imperfect people. “We”, not us and them. I know I fail in this area, too.

  9. hello, ms. lily,

    yes, to feel like a stranger in a supposedly closely-knit community is something to feel sad about. i hope the next Sunday will be kinder… ^^ btw, love that observation re: evangelical cleavage, haha. 🙂 🙂

  10. SharonW says:

    So sad, and so unnecessary. About twelve years ago, my husband and I decided to try out going to church – we made a semirandom choice, and were warmly welcomed by two delightful ladies handing out bulletins. Later in the service, when it came time to exchange the Peace, everybody was shaking hands with everybody they could reach – including us, the strangers. There’s more to the story than this – but we’ve been at that church almost every Sunday since.

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