A couple of years ago I was sharing with a friend what our Sunday gathering at PNC looks and feels like. We were having a relaxed conversation over a drink at a cozy neighbourhood spot. My description actually led to this friend, a self-professed Atheist, to say “now THAT’s the kind of church I could go to”.
I kept thinking about that comment as I sat with the community just yesterday.
We usually start our service at 3:30 p.m. Yesterday though the chairs were filled almost thirty minutes early and everyone wanted to sing. We have songbooks that are pages and pages long. One after another, people called out a number and we made music together.
Eventually, after an official welcome, some readings and even more singing I invited people to share what they were struggling with so that we might pray. There is never pressure to do this. People can share as much as they feel comfortable to- we know that those things kept quietly in our hearts are heard by God too. One person confessed the violent actions they had recently made against another; one spoke of the deep desire to recover from a serious addiction; one expressed the need for better self-control…all things that so rarely get spoken aloud. I was profoundly moved, not only by the raw nature of the sharing but also by the reaction of the group as a whole: the confessions were met with grace and gentle challenge.
Internally I was struggling to know how to articulate what is going on with me. I looked up at the ceiling and finally said, “I need to ask for support”. Tearfully I spoke of the challenge of all the change I (and we as a community) are going through. I explained that I am excited and hopeful. And scared. A long time friend and member of PNC, who has no idea how wise she is, said simply: “we need to pray for you”. I was invited to stand in the middle of the circle and be surrounded by everyone present. They held my hands and touched my shoulders. They prayed that I might know I am not alone, that I be enabled to be there for all of them and they for me, that we move forward together.
The rest of the service unfolded as beautifully as it began. We closed with extending the peace of Christ to one another through hand shakes and hugs. Some people lingered over donated cookies and tea. We quietly dispersed.
I left feeling encouraged and elated. While gathered with friends I encountered God. None of us are alone. PNC is most definitely a church that I want to go to.