Despite this inauspicious beginning, about ten years later I would develop a strong interest in religion, and not just Christianity, but also Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism, about all of which I read widely. But I only read about it; I didn't practice any particular form of it, or attend any services. I was quite shy and introverted (I still am). Then, for a brief period of time in my early twenties, after I was out on my own, I lived in Tampa, Florida, and while I was there I attended Quaker "meetings" (where silent worship was practiced). These were my first forays back into a church since the "itchy pants" incident, and I actually enjoyed them a lot. But I soon moved away from there, and my interest in religion waned. Over the next twenty-five years I was immersed in career, marriage, and kids of my own.
Then, early in 2005, I felt a sense of incompleteness. After some initial study - remember, we introverts are never impulsive - I picked a (Christian) church for us to try (our kids were away at college by now). My wife is very much an extrovert; we're polar opposites. She felt the same incompleteness I did, but it made no difference to her which church we attended, except that she'd rather it not be Quaker. I, of course, remembered how much I had liked the Quaker form of silent worship, and I talked to her about it, but she had attended Methodist churches while growing up, and she said she wanted a more traditional form of worship. And, in truth, I think I wanted at least a little bit of liturgy too (and, yes, I know that some Quakers practice a "programmed" form of worship, but in our city the only choice was "unprogrammed" worship).
One of the things that had attracted me to the Quaker church was their historic witness for peace and non-violence; the Mennonite church and the Church of the Brethren share this historic witness, but they have more traditional forms of worship, and so I decided we'd try both and then decide between the two. As it happened, we visited our local Church of the Brethren first, and we liked it so much that we never even visited the local Mennonite church. After several months of attending services, my wife and I became members of the local COB church. And we remained in this congregation for four years, until last September, when we moved halfway across the country to an area without any COB presence.
Our COB church was fairly small. I'm not sure of the exact membership count, but I'd guess it was about 100 members, or maybe slightly below that. On any given Sunday there were usually 50 to 75 people in church. The Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites have much in common. Both are Anabaptist - that is, they baptize adult believers, and not infants (there is a service of "dedication" for infants). My wife and I were baptized in 2005, along with two young adults in our congregation. Of course it was a profound experience (and commitment) for me personally, made all the more meaningful by the opportunity to undergo it with my wife, as well as with two others from our congregation. It's been my impression that, in general, the COB is a fairly staid denomination, as denominations go - not too demonstrative, not at all "happy-clappy." In short, the COB is a pretty decent fit for an introvert like me. Nevertheless, it was interesting to observe the different ways that my wife and I "fit into" our congregation.
I want to preface the following remarks by expressing my profound gratitude for the friendship and fellowship I experienced in our COB congregation. No amount of reading or study can possibly replace the experiential component of religion. I know that now. It was often joyful and inspiring to be with the members of my congregation, and several of them set an example of Christian love and service that I, sadly, will probably never be able to match.
As new members of the congregation, my wife and I were both invited to serve separately on one of the dozen or so committees within our church. The only full-time employee of our church is our pastor. It's possible, although I'm not sure, that the member who serves as our church secretary is also paid something, but if so, it's likely a pittance. Everything else - all other work - is done by volunteers. I'm sure this is common in many small, and even not so small, churches. An effort is usually made to assign church members to committees that suit their talents and interests. My wife is quite the "outdoors" person, and a real handy(wo)man, and so it was natural for her to accept a place on the "maintenance and grounds" committee. It was, so I learned later, more of a challenge to figure out a committee to invite me to serve on. Reading a lot of books, and watching foreign films that most people find unwatchable - even if, as in my case, both of these activities largely cohered around spiritual themes - is curiously unhelpful in terms of the practical concerns of running a church congregation. Funnily enough.
The closest fit for me was deemed to be the "education" committee, so that's where I served. Oddly, the one area of education that would have been the best fit for me, "adult" education, was not within the purview of our committee; for some reason, it was handled by the deacons of our church. Clearly, I was years away (if ever) from being deacon material. But perhaps it didn't matter anyway, because the adult portion of our Sunday School was very poorly attended - averaging two or three people, if that - and was simply not a focus for our congregation. Our congregation had no book discussion group, much less a film discussion group. Had I been an extrovert, I probably would have tried to start either a book or film discussion group. It's not as though there weren't well-educated people in our church - a few had advanced degrees - but our church just didn't seem to sponsor activity that wasn't directly, and obviously, practical. It is a congregation of doers, and not (so much) thinkers. But no, that's not right. I know it's not right, because I became friends with two or three people in our church who were, in fact, deep thinkers. It's more accurate to say that their thinking, deep though it was, was not much valued or used by the wider congregation.
My work on the education committee was behind-the-scenes, a fact which suited me well as an introvert. For example, we spent a lot of time evaluating, and selecting, a new curriculum for the kids in our Sunday School. Everyone was tired of the old curriculum, but the new one was pricier; we finally bit the bullet, and were glad we did. Preparing for Vacation Bible School, both times (I served on the committee for two years), felt a bit like Grant preparing to take Richmond. The movement of the kids, from station to station, was as choreographed as a ballet, as well thought out as the placements and movements of the actors in the final scene of Ordet. Every minute was accounted for. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to what it must feel like to direct a film. Over my two years on the committee - and there were only three of us on the committee - we met at least once a month, and sometimes more often than that. It was a lot of work, especially for the chairwoman, who was also the church secretary (!). She confided to me, when her two-year term was up, that she was never so glad to be done with serving on a church committee (and she had served on many over the years).
On the other hand, if the maintenance and grounds committee that my wife was on met even once during those two years, I'm not aware of it. Which is not to say that she didn't do things on her committee. It's just that that committee's activities didn't require much planning: "Can you get over to the church later today to mow the lawn? I'm tied up today." Or: "Let's all meet at the church on Saturday afternoon to rake leaves." That kind of thing. My wife, being the extrovert that she is, ended up working "unofficially" on several other committees, at one time or another. She is multitalented, unlike me, and her skills are highly practical, unlike mine. All told, she probably worked as much as I did, but her work was spread out over multiple committees. Her contributions also tended to be more visible to the congregation than mine.
Although we both were warmly welcomed by our congregation at all times, I'd be kidding myself if I didn't acknowledge that my wife made a bigger, and more positive, impression overall than I did - as well she should have. Of course, introverts must always guard against simple laziness, must test their "I do not want to" constantly to see whether it springs from a cold, uncaring heart. I admit that I let too many opportunities - for connection, for friendship - slip away from me in my old congregation, and I regret this. But I also know that I am wired differently from my wife, that I will always find social gatherings, etc., draining, and that I have to accept this fact. The congregation as a whole will always consist of a mixture of extroverts and introverts, and the trick for the congregational leaders is to take care that they are not overlooking - no, more than this, to make sure they are doing all they can to encourage - us introverts in their midst whose talents are always going to be less obvious.
We haven't yet found a new church home where we now live, but I'm sure that we will. I have to admit that I'm eyeing the local Quaker worship group and wondering if I could talk my wife into trying it, at least once. Of course, I could always go there alone, but I would prefer that we worship together. And who knows? I might find, after thirty years, that silent worship doesn't work for me anymore. Or not.
The Quakers have an old saying that I've always liked: "Don't just do something, sit there."
Edited by tenpenny, 01 April 2010 - 07:52 PM.