“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.”
For me, church is a place where I “stumble upon” a wide variety of people over and over again.
I stumble upon those I hit it off with instantly, and I stumble upon those I need more time to warm up to. I stumble upon one whose mannerisms grate on me…and I stumble upon her often enough that the grating softens to chocolate. I stumble upon each person often enough that (in most cases) my irritating traits are ultimately experienced through a gentle lens.
This is what we do at church. We stumble upon each other one, two, five times each week. We see each other’s spontaneous tears. I overhear the pain you share with Mary. I sit close to you, even though I’m not quite sure about you yet. I watch your commitment, as you wordlessly set out the chairs for every single meeting, every single week. You hear my quirky ideas in the meeting.
We stumble upon, stumble upon, stumble upon each other.
One to seven times per week we are in proximity to each other. We find each other—time and again—at this event and another. In a good church, we are safe to let our walls down, to share who we are. We are received.
In this space, you may forever wonder how it is that I managed to find myself in my bizarre past experiences, and I may clench my teeth every time you launch in about the intelligence of your goldfish. We may disagree on some points of theology—in fact, we very likely DO disagree on some points of theology, because we are not twins.
But we have proximity, unplanned repeated contact, and a setting for trust. This trifecta takes us far. As we stumble across each other in a physical setting, and stumble across each other’s pain and questioning and fear and joy, our edges soften. I make room for you. You have more context about who I am. We find out what we have in common. We are patient with each other’s differences. You see when I am missing, and call me up. I hear when you are questioning every single thing in today’s reflection, and listen intently while you explore that out loud. When Tanya breaks her arm, we takes turns to cook for her.
I don’t go to church for community. I go because church reflects my direct, personal experience of Source, and helps me shuffle back under Its light beam for another day. But in the right congregation, community is a phenomenal side benefit. It is a place where nearness, interaction, and vulnerability are naturally supported. In that space, I stumble upon you…and find out that I love you.