I can hear my heart beating in my ears. I'd been feeling faint and nervous for the past few hours, anticipating what was to come. I'm anxious, but also wanting to seem confident. I want to be present, and not shy away from all that this morning means. I don't know where to look, what the right thing to do is. I don't want to seem aloof, but I also don't want to seem too comfortable. Act natural, I tell myself... but what does that even look like?!
Walking into a church that will be our new home for the next few months was so odd. Almost nobody knew that we had just survived the biggest week of our lives. We had just been farewelled at our church which we had been a part of for 20 years. My husband was a pastor there, and I'd been deeply involved in ministry for more than half my life. I never thought that we would leave Camden Uniting - thought it was our forever place! But God had other plans. Feeling called to plant a new church close to home, we (after years of waiting for the right time, and pretending we didn't hear God's voice) took a step of faith and resigned from our comfortable, wonderful life (hello!) to start the process of building a church from scratch.
We had decided that we still needed and wanted to go to church somewhere, and that going to our local Hillsong church would be a good in between step. It is big enough for us to be inconspicuous and not feel the need to serve. Arriving on that morning... we were emotionally raw, felt grief about not being at CUC that morning, but knew that this was what God was calling us to. I had been here before, and knew the basic where-to-go/what-to-do routine. My sweet sister attends this church, and met us at the front door and showed us where to drop the kids off. She'd even saved us seats. In we go, sitting at the back... and the music begins.
It was a momentous occasion for us, the first Sunday in years and years which neither of us were doing anything to "make church happen", but also the first Sunday in years which we weren't with our Camden church family. It felt odd, strangely empty, and very different. As if the time we had spent with our CUC family had bonded us so closely with people - that they had almost become part of why we believed in Jesus. And now they were no longer part of our Sunday routine.
I looked over the crowd of maybe 200 people there that morning at Hillsong South West, and felt deep longing. A longing to be known, and to feel at home. We had come from a community where we knew almost everyone, and certainly everyone knew us! But here in the darkness of worship - almost nobody knew us. I longed for someone to recognise what it meant that we were here, rather than at Camden this morning. What a huge step it was, how hard, how bittersweet, how complex.
I just wanted to be known.
In this gathering of people, I was just another face in the crowd - but I wasn't! I was someone going through pretty huge life change, with a story, with intrinsic value. Most people would not know the depth of weight I felt, or the burden of the future I carried. It made me realise that everyone must feel like this as a new person! They are valuable! They are worth knowing! They are worth including and having meaningful conversations with!
This week I read a quote from Tim Keller, which really struck me as true...
"To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us and strengthens us for any difficult life can throw at us".
The thing about being new somewhere is that you are neither known or loved. People won't forgive you for your quirks, or find them endearing (yet). It would be easy to connect only superficially with people that you generally love, but haven't had time to get to know. And my goodness - developing new relationships take time! I certainly took the long haul friendships for granted - and the safe place they provided for me by knowing my so well.
Our new church is a good place, and it will be perfect for what we need. My other friendships from Camden Uniting haven't just stopped, of course they will be a continuing place of love and safety. But I never want to forget what this feels like. The desire to be known.
Praying that God leads me to rely on His love more fully. I am completely known and loved by Him.