When my brother moved into my house in Georgetown, he asked me to start attending churches with him. Jason and I had just met and I knew his family was very involved in a particular church, but he was not a huge fan. I had been raised in a Mid-Western, Bible-Thumping, rust-belt church from birth to age 14 when I told my mom that I would find my own church. I went to a Methodist church in my tiny hometown for about two years, and then stopped going altogether.
What I remember most was not feeling welcomed, or unconditionally loved and celebrated. More than once I went head to head with the pastor of my mom’s church about not being able to ask questions. When I wanted someone to explain how you could believe in God, a being you cannot see or talk to directly, I was reprimanded for even asking. Needless to say, when my brother asked me to attend church with him, I scoffed at the idea, but finally agreed that I would look at churches with him, but would not attend regularly.
Jason was raised in a churched household as well. He was baptized Catholic and attended the Church of God after school program. In his words, he was “a loosely raised Christian”. After a long dry-spell, that was born out of events that contributed to a strong distrust in God, Jason began his own, almost ironic, church-research experiment in Portland, Oregon. His idea was to use the Yellow Pages to pick different churches, take notes on why their approach failed to connect him to God, and figure out why he felt so alienated from the Christian community through a more ‘scientific’ approach. That came to a quick end when the first church he visited stopped him ten feet in the door, extracted as much personal information as possible, and would not stop calling or visiting his home after that first Sunday. What he also remembers noticing is that the church sat parishioners based on their attendance seniority and financial contributions (or so it appeared).
Though both of us had a list of reasons to shy away from the Christian community, we found strength in braving it together so we started with some churches in the area, most of which we found on line, or Jason had heard of, or his father recommended. One morning we were running late, my brother’s girlfriend was in town, so we did a quick search online for casual/cowboy churches in Georgetown and found our way to NewChurch. That Sunday, I couldn’t tell you what Lee spoke about, but I remember him talking about NewChurch’s perspective on being a church for the un-churched. I remember thinking that it was about time somebody came up with that idea.
So, we were interested. Jason and I attended once a month or so, and finally had the conversation that we felt we could use the community and guidance we believed a church offered. As we attended more regularly, we thought we were ‘under the radar’… that no one noticed us. Frankly, we were thrilled about it too. We were tired of over-greeting, intrusive hand-shakes, false friendliness and the other awkward and intrusive moments shared with strangers at other churches. After about six months of regular attendance, Jason and I decided to join a Front Porch. As we looked at the summaries of each group after Quest, Mike Rainey approached us to see if we had any questions. Before we knew it, we were exchanging stories about West Point (my brother was a graduate), cycling, and any variety of shared personal interests. It was so natural to talk to someone… Jason and I felt familiar with the place and comfortable with the people (although we knew none of their names or backgrounds, and believed they knew nothing about us).
Later that week, Mike reached out and invited Jason and I to join he and his wife, Lisa for dinner at the Salt Lick. The whole week leading up to it, Jason and I made jokes about ‘having dinner with a couple from church’ and how likely it was that our unconditional, universally accepting, but rough and rowdy ways were going to offend this nice couple. Not having many female friends, myself (despite my desire or best attempts), I was sure that my bartender’s mouth would at the very least scare this woman away, and we would not possibly have anything in common.
We could not have been more wrong.
Dinner was fun, engaging and we didn’t mention religion, faith or church (aside of explaining how we started attending) even a little. As it turns out, Lisa and I have tons in common. Jason and Mike started making arrangements to ride bikes together. It was a fantastic evening, all around. We learned that we had been ‘under observation’ so to speak, for a while. Nearly everyone in the congregation who attended regularly recognized us, yet no one ever intruded upon our process of getting comfortable. Jason even had a nick-name, that was obviously one of affection, recognizing his distinct beard and his uniqueness. I had braved the blue communication card our second or third time there, and as promised, no one showed up at my house. No one called. (And yes, I entered real, accurate information.)
It was seamless, the way that we suddenly felt appreciated, recognized and loved. We didn’t have to do anything to earn that either. We literally just showed up. It took us about 9 months to get comfortable, to allow ourselves to demonstrate an interest in this community of people. Little did we know that it would lead to great friends, a remarkable and strong community which is supportive of our adventures and our growth, much less finding the inspiration to be baptized. Becoming a part of NewChurch has been a fantastic growing experience, built on the foundation of being a church for me… for us… for the Unchurched.
Pixie Gray and Jason Renna