I remember my mother counting the apple trees on the way to our little New York church on Sunday morning. The road snaked through backcountry hills beside sad houses where the paint peeled off. It passed apple trees, a three-room library, and some black-spotted cows. If you stayed on it long enough you’d eventually arrive at our nearest shopping mecca, which was actually not particularly near: the Hornell Walmart. But before we got to Walmart, we stopped at the country church.
When I got married, leaving that church—and even the road that led to it—was very hard for me. In fact, the saddest moment of our wedding happened at the rehearsal dinner, when the man who taught me most about the Bible stood up and said, “I’m Chelsea’s pastor for one more day.” My flower girls asked me, “Will you still come to church?”
I felt I left the church in media res—an artistic term for when an author begins their story not at the beginning but “in the middle of the thing.” Even as I left, new needs were developing, new families were coming, new babies were being born, and my relationships were deepening. I still wanted to sit in the thick of things, scribbling down the prayer-request list and plotting the calendar day for the church picnic. As my mother told me the church news via phone or sent me snapshots of the kids’ Sunday school artwork, I kept thinking, “I’m missing it. I’m missing it all.”
My grandmother reminded me on the telephone that “missing it” mattered less than working on my marriage. And, of course, Jonathan and I needed to root ourselves in a church of our own.
Northern Virginia is so lush with convenience I hardly know what to do. We drive through four lanes of traffic to get to church, and can go to the mall on the way home.
I don’t know how metropolitan church members bond, but I feel fairly certain it isn’t over digging potatoes or milking goats. So I find myself at the beginning of a new game. When Jonathan and I arrived for the first time at our new church’s evening service, two people came up to us and asked if we’d seen Germany’s World Cup win. We squirmed a little, disappointed that we didn’t yet know the language of the people we had found. “No,” we said, and admitted that we don’t actually have a TV. We didn’t add that if we did, we still wouldn’t watch soccer.
But as the service took off and prayer requests started to fly, it became clearer to me that every church is in media res: babies being born, missionaries going out, saints still praying for good conversations as they attend the deathbeds of gospel-resistant relatives.
As we approach joining a new body, we surf along a necessary learning curve. We have to learn the interests and needs of a group of people totally new to us. We must jump into the middle of the wave.