It has all happened while I am sitting in the office. Today is nothing new: I would have rather stayed home today than come in, but I am here, and I do not hate it. I was sitting at this desk for at least two hours before I realized what is sitting in front of me. It is nothing special, just like today, but it has triggered something--a memory, a feeling. And this is not fleeting. It is all as concrete as the time spent and wasted there. It was a sheet of paper with a name. Just a name.
When I was only a few years old, my family decided to go to church--together. After some coercion from my Baptist-raised mother, my metal-loving father finally agreed to go. It was not very long after that, that life without church was not much of a memory at all. We met friends there. We had "church family" there--whatever that is. We were complete there. Through the years, I grew up with an understanding of the Bible and what it meant to be part of something. I grew up with friends who understood it, too.
The church was looking to move sometime before I was 10-years-old. It was blossoming into something bigger, but still modest. We found a plot of land. I still remember it when it was just dirt and some signs of grass. I remember it shortly before the parking lot. I even remember what it was like before they laid the foundation. My family was one of the six original families to move from the original holding in a rented office building to this plot of land. We helped build the church. We molded it. We made it. God signed off on it, and a great church it was--two stories with a large sanctuary, decent kitchen for church events and nights with the children and youth groups. Extra rooms for meetings and ministry. And a large area downstairs full of children's classrooms and offices for the leadership. And we filled the church--almost every seat.
Our pastor at the time checked it off of his to-do list and left for one of the Carolinas, and we began anew with a pastor who seemed perfect for the position. His patented fast-reading was a small joke amongst the congregation. He would speed through the verses so fast, and we never did figure out how he could to it without tripping up. But spiritually, he fed us. That was what was important back then, and only that.
We continued to blossom. We grew until our congregation was well past 100 members; possibly 200. Sometimes I would look up at the ceiling and remember when it was nothing but wooden beams--no paint, no carpet, just wood. So much work went into the church. So much of our church family moved there with us, or at least visited to see us and see what we had done. It was home. But just like any church, things can go wrong.
People are people, they make mistakes, and things are said. Eventually too much was said. Had the stigma of a judgmental Baptist ever come into play, it would when rumors started flying about our pastor, who, by now, was no longer new. Perhaps he was too much of the normal for people. Perhaps they were just tired of him altogether. People whispered and joked, but people stayed. Because people--even church-going, God-fearing people--are hypocrites. They would rather stay at a church they speak unkindly of, than leave and find somewhere else. That requires effort and time. That requires leaving your comfort zone for maybe just a moment to find something better. Eventually we found we had to leave, too. For our sanity and for the health of our Spiritual lives.
We would not be the last to leave that church.
We were at that church until I was about 15-years-old. I wanted to stay. I was hung up on how long I had been there. We had consistently followed the church for 12 years. But it no longer was that church we helped build.
Since that time, that building has gone through at least two different leaders, but the name has remained. Now it is a predominantly black church with a completely different atmosphere. I wonder if they have changed the paint that we put up. I wonder if they have pulled up the carpets for something more suitable. Are there chairs, like we had, or are there pews now? What happened to the offices and children's classrooms? Part of me knows I probably do not want to go back in there. Too much time has passed now. It would feel weird, and I would not belong anymore.
The sheet of paper sitting in front of me now is a flyer for a summer program for children. The new leadership is reaching out to feed children since school is out and it can be harder for parents who work. A sweet sentiment, if you ask me. But I do not think anyone cares what I think anymore.
The first word in the name derives simply from the area the church sits--a community of neighborhoods and a lake all with the same name. Given the history of the church the second word "community," almost seems like a joke. I know what happened. I know why that church family we took with us is now broken. And the third word, "church" is merely what it is. None of these words separately hold any meaning to me. They just are what they are. Under the right context, they could mean something, but now they cannot. That name takes me back to a different place and time. A place I sometimes wish we could go back to, but too much time has passed, and honestly too much of our church family is off acting as if we never were a family. I suppose in this context "family" does not mean anything either. Twelve years of memories roll through my mind. The wooden beams I watched my dad hoist together, and the paint we helped put up on the walls all mean something. But that name that I am looking at now, is nothing more than what it is. It is just a name.