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November 09, 2010

why not

I spent the spring semester of 2001 at the University of Delaware doing a research clinical. For four months I lived muscle fatigue and function after ACL repair. Most athletes grow weary at the depths of physiology where lab geeks thrive. 

I plopped a suit case and air mattress on the floor of a bare room. The two art-history majors that I hooked up with for a roof over my head weren’t exactly choir boys. Not that they were horrible. They were, well, art history majors. Looking back, I wish I asked them more about their studies; about their lives.

I arrived late Saturday night. The stranger in a strange land decided to take a ride the next morning.

Traveling down an unfamiliar street, I spotted a little church on an elevated piece of land. I forget the exact wording, but the sign read something like Newark Zion Church of Christ. Much later I would discover that Zion was the name designated to a fortified mound at the southern tip of Jerusalem. It sounded sufficiently churchy and, more importantly, the 10:30 service started just 2 minutes ago.

Rushing through the unmanned double wide doors, not until 3 steps into the tiny vestibule did I look up. This little old church on a hill was packed wall to wall with black folks, every one of them completely dressed to the nines and about to move. I paused, recalling that I wore my typical jeans and long sleeve T. Oh, and I wasn’t black. 

I mean, not that color is a big deal or anything. Right?

I commenced backwards tiptoeing when a rather large attendant stepped behind me and whispered “Where you going?”

It suddenly seemed rather silly to rush out like that. I thought, with a big open hand on the small of my back, "yeah, maybe I should stay awhile." They apparently had plenty of room for an awkward white kid. Another attended walked me about 10 paces, where after a few shuffles and scoots I landed on the edge of a pew about midway to the front of the church.

“We’re glad you came.” 

Roman Catholics and Baptists don't sing with soul or clap or dance or wear formal suits, at least not the ones that have shaped me. So I stood amazed and uncomfortable for about fifteen or thirty minutes in a sea of soulful Christians. I felt like an obstacle, worse than out of place. I clearly recall the excellent message on faith as well as the appropriate black preacher swagger with which it was delivered. 

Some of the service was familiar, and some I'd never seen. The people didn't ignore me. They didn’t make me squirm under a cumbersome load of attention or expectation. There were no apparent agendas or attempts to appear theologically sophisticated. They simply did what they do, with no apology, making sure I knew they were glad to have me.

After service a few men asked me where I was from and how I got there. They invited me to their light lunch at the church and invited me back next week. 

Something felt right about that church. Surely, the presence of the Lord was in that place. I was quite impressed with the little Zion something church up on that hill. And during my four months at the University of Delaware, I never returned.

 - - - - -


Bradley J. Moore said...

What a great story! I think it's good to be put in those situations from time to time, to get out of our same-old comfort zones and to be okay with it. Our family tries to get out to the Brooklyn Tabernacle every once in a while for a very nice mixed-race, inner-city kind of worship service. Plus the music is unbelievable.

I guess it's normal to feel self-conscious, but there's really no reason. Maybe that feeling says more about us than the surroundings we're in.

David Rupert said...

I purposefully go to churchs that aren't familiar -- just to keep me grateful, aware and in tune with where God is working.

He's not limited to my faith expression!

Bob Gorinski said...

Thanks guys.

Yeah...I was already feeling alone and insecure at that point, and kinda needed something familiar.

Staying there for the semester would have been great, but I wasn't even close.

ya learn....

L.L. Barkat said...

"Something felt right." I like that. Who knows exactly why we feel this way. But it's cool when it happens. Especially in an unexpected place.

Dan King said...

I had almost the same exact experience once when I was in the Marine Corps with a few buddies. We were about 5-10 minutes late for the start of the service, and when we walked in during the singing and dancing everything literally STOPPED as they all turned to look at us. Then someone shouted something like..."Come on in! EVERYONE is welcome here in God's House!" Then as we stepped forward to find some seats, the music started again along with the singing and dancing.

That was one of the best church services that I've EVER been to!

Ann Kroeker said...

Though they made you feel welcome and "something felt right about that church" never returned.

I wonder why?

But what a wonderful story with so many memorable details. The big hand on the small of your back, "Where you going?"

Love that.

I'm so glad you joined us for the crossing cultures writing project with such a rich and thought-provoking piece.

Sam Van Eman said...

How did I miss this cool story of yours, Bob? Definitely a good one to remember; and maybe even one to make your kids experience sometime.

Dena Dyer said...

I love this post. Thanks for sharing it during our cross-cultural writing project.

I really, really need to go to a black church sometime!

Megan Willome said...

It's that last line that makes this such a good post.

Michelle DeRusha@Graceful said...

Bob, I'm coming over from The High Calling...and what a fabulous story this is. And I am wondering, too, why did you never return. I read that last line's sticking with me.

Bob Gorinski said...

Thanks for reading!

Michelle - I think that I opted for a more "familiar" church next to the campus because of insecurity. The location was unfamiliar, the "unconventional" nature of my clinical work unfamiliar, my roommates interests and temperaments were unfamiliar. That church really couldn't have done anything "better" for me as an outsider. It would have been great for me, but I wasn't even close (to staying).

The experience does make me long to seek out diversity when we go to church during vacations and such. There's just so much to be gained!