I was in church for the first time in more than five years last Sunday. I’ve nothing against church or churches; it’s just that I retired from the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, July 1, 2017, after 42 years and simply fell out of the habit.
(It helps if you’re paid to go!)
Last Sunday I thought I was only going into a church building. But, alas, I ended up trapped in a church service.
I should have seen it coming.
My granddaughters are in the middle school jazz band. They told us they’d be performing at St. Agnes Catholic Church at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 20. I thought it an odd venue for a school concert.
I should have connected the dots.
4:00. Sunday. Before Thanksgiving. A church.
It was the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association’s Community Thanksgiving Service, which I helped reorganize 40 years ago.
Attendance at the Thanksgiving service had been dwindling. I suggested we invite the elementary school chorus and middle school jazz band. That would boost attendance and make the service more festive, less churchy.
And it did. The church was full. The band played a prelude and a postlude. The chorus sang. Alas, unsuspecting parents and grandparents were trapped in a church service.
And that’s the very service that entrapped me last Sunday.
The church was packed. Paula and I couldn’t find a place to sit until a young woman with long blonde hair and hoop earrings motioned us to sit next to her. Turns out I knew her.
Roberta had once been Bobby. I officiated his wedding to Barbara a few years before I retired. I baptized their children.
I first met Bobby when some friends referred him to me for counseling. His wife of only two months had abruptly announced that she was a lesbian and instantly left the marriage and Bobby behind. Bobby was devastated.
Over the years we met again and again as he worked to overcome anger, grief, and depression. Bobby was a troubled soul on a rocky journey. And then he met Barbara. A ray of sunshine.
Bobby fell in love. Barbara helped him mend. They married. Four years later Bobby came out as Roberta.
I sat next to Roberta at the Thanksgiving service. We sang “All Are Welcome in This Place.” She put her arm around me. I put mine around her.
I miss church.
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Note: Bobby/Roberta and Barbara are not their actual names. But St. Agnes is the actual name of the host church in this story and Roberta was actually wearing hoop earrings.