A question that has been going around my mind and in conversations I’ve been having for a while is around the understanding of Church. That word brings different connotations, feelings and ideas. So I invited a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and ages to write about their own understanding & feelings about Church. That’s all the direction & restriction I gave them. For the next 6 posts (one a week, I hope) we’ll be hearing from these different voices in the hope that we can better understand each other and learn from each other as well. Let’s dive in!
Our first post comes from Katherine Harris.
Katherine, 24, is an alumna of the University of Florida with a B.A. in Anthropology, and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Health Education and Behavior. Her areas of interest are sexual and reproductive health, self-esteem, religion and health behavior, and LGBT health. She also works as a staff member for a United Methodist youth ministry, and still can’t believe she’s getting paid to have this much fun.
Eventually she hopes to work in sexual and reproductive health education, particularly for women in underserved areas and developing nations. She is passionate about helping girls and women feel happy, healthy, safe, and in control of their own bodies.
Church. It’s a building. It’s an organization. It’s an abstract concept. Sometimes church is a drafty old place with a pitched roof, stained glass windows, polished wooden pews, and velvet runners. Sometimes church is big screens, projectors, rock bands, and pastors in sneakers. Sometimes church is a 10 PM cheeseburger, tucked into a restaurant booth with good people and lots of french fries.
I’ve been trying to write on the subject of church, as prompted, but it’s been hard lately. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to think about it.
It’s like when I moved into the dorms my freshman year and I didn’t know how to say the word ‘home’ anymore. Was home the place I slept at night, or was it my mom’s house, where my bed was still made and I often crashed on the weekends after work? Is home where you park your car, or where you go when you need a safe space? I didn’t know, and it never felt right in my mouth, home.
I’m not really sure what ‘church’ means to me, either. I do know that I don’t think church is a place you go, so much as a place you are inside. It’s when something lines up and it just feels right. Sometimes that happens in a specific building, or during a sermon, or while serving in the community. Sometimes it’s when you’re out in the middle of the woods meditating. You might be surrounded by people when it happens, or the presence of others might take away exactly what it means for you to be in church.
Some days I go to worship and I feel it. Everything lines up, and the words taste right, and I know I’m part of something. Some days I feel most connected when I’m all alone, riding with the windows down, one hand on the steering wheel and the other catching air.
I like to go out to Payne’s Prairie by myself late at night sometimes and stargaze. Technology is amazing—I can point my phone at any constellation I don’t recognize and it will tell me exactly what I’m looking at. Then I can look up the story behind it, the mythology, the eternal and unchanging human experience painted across the sky. That’s church too, I think.
There are two stars in the constellation of Ursa Major, Dubhe and Merak, which are known as the “pointer stars.” If you follow them in a straight line, they’ll lead you right to Polaris, true north. Any time you are lost, all you have to do is look up. It’s all right there, in pieces. Line them up right, and you’ll find your way home.
Maybe that’s church, really, at the core of it—lining up the pieces so we can find our way home. Sometimes they line up in a certain building, or during a particular activity, or with a special group of people. Sometimes it happens when you’re all by yourself. But when they line up, you feel it, and you know you’re on your way. You’re going home.
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. But when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here.
I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe.
And that makes things right.”
– Beasts of the Southern Wild