I sat socially distanced at church on Sunday and realized I didn’t know the people around me. Maybe they were new or maybe they were from a different service time. My first thought was that I should introduce myself. It was swiftly followed by my second thought: How can I talk to someone from 6 feet away? I was then consumed with anxiety: What if I get too close to these people and offend them? What if muscle memory causes me to accidentally try to shake a hand? Should I even try? Then I wondered what would make complete strangers arise early and endure this social anxiety. Is something uniting us that we would show up to the same place, press through the same issues, for the same reason?
The singing started and everyone stood. After the second song, my eyes filled with tears and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t seem to be the only one though. The woman in front of me sat with her face in her hands, the man next to me kept shouting Amen!, the woman behind me sang so loud she didn’t even care that she didn’t have a singer’s voice. We were all emotional in our own ways. “Why?” I wondered.
And I thought about the woman I met when I traveled to China whose apartment was bugged and she couldn’t talk freely while at home. We naviaged the floor to ceiling stacks of forbidden Bibles as we spoke about the weather and other mundane topics. When we walked outside I asked how long it would take for her to distribute all those Bibles, and she said they’d be gone before the month was over and she would need more. What unites me with her?
I thought about the family I met in India who continue to fight the increasing government pressure so they can feed and teach boys who would be homeless without them. What unites me with them? Or the ancient house church who baptized converts in the middle of the night secreted in catacombs. And the characters in the Bible who faced persecution and often had to flee for their lives – what unites me with them?
What unites me with the long story of the adaptability and survival of the church? I am more united with that story now than I ever have been – now that my easy and comfortable, and even entertaining, church experience is encountering, really for the first time, some discomfort. My suffering pales in comparison to others I know, but it reminds me of those who paved the way, fought, rethought, endured, and sacrificed.
And I wonder if I get to play a tiny part in that long story. I go through each day navigating the new rules I am trying to learn in order to participate in society, but I don’t usually think about others who have been doing the same for ages. In church Sunday morning, next to emotional strangers, fighting back my own tears, I think I realized, not with my mind but with my soul, the testimony we were sharing.
The gravity of it overwhelms me.
The persistence of it awes me.
The unity in it inspires me.
The honor of it, well, the honor if it makes me cry.