For the last two+ years I’ve played visitor at various churches. I’ve visited the church that sent my husband and I out as church-planters more than a decade ago. I’ve visited churches of varying denominations. The church I’ve returned to again and again, is the Catholic church, for a very unexpected reason. (Don’t have a cow… this is MY experience, not yours.)
Most Protestant churches, even the liturgical ones, are geared toward familiarity, friendliness, and making everyone feel welcome by placing greeters at every entrance, passing out information cards, and having a special time to meet and greet your fellow worshipers at some point during the service.
THIS IS NOT BAD. I get it. In some part of myself (the part that likes fiction and believes there’s a lovely little white clapboard community church out there with no ambitions) understands.
Lots and lots of people go to church every week looking for a connection, for fellowship, for welcome and comfort and a sense they are wanted and that they belong. As the worst-ever pastor’s wife, I had more than one person in the space of 14 years tell me I failed in that department… I didn’t make them feel welcome, or comfortable, or that I was glad they were in attendance.
What they didn’t know is that I was literally shaking in my shoes whenever new people crossed the threshold on Sunday morning. Why? Because I’m an introvert. It’s how God made me, and it’s not a sin. SURPRISE!
Lots and lots of other people are introverts, too, and whether you like it or not, at least a few of them are showing up at your local church on Sunday.
They probably come late. They’ve figured out the system: if they show up late enough, the greeter-gauntlet has gone into the sanctuary. They’ve missed half the music, but that’s better than being hand-shaked and hugged into a quivering, twitching mess by near-strangers on their way into the building. (BTW: If you ever get a hug from an introvert, it’s INTENDED, MEANT, and VALUABLE, FYI.)
And they probably leave early. I’ve spent a good portion of many services scoping out ways to escape without having to interact with fellow worshipers who would want to know my name, where I was from, if I was visiting, where I went to church, my Social Security number, and my blood type. No, I know, they were just trying to make me feel welcome. I bear them no ill will. Really!
Some people go to church expressly out of obedience to God’s command that we not forsake the gathering together with other believers. We’re not looking for friends (we already have them), a substitute family (we’re probably there to pray for the family we already have), or a place and position in an organization.
That’s why, while I am in limbo between church homes, I keep returning to various Catholic Masses. It’s the only introvert-friendly church I’ve come across. And the focus of the Mass, as far as I’ve seen. is on Christ alone, period, without apology. Some Scripture readings, a few recited prayers I have no argument with, and a significant part of an hour spent concentrating on the broken body and shed blood of the Son of God. It’s not the music, or the personality of the preacher, or the hip and catchy video announcements, or the cushy chairs (OMG, is there anything more uncomfortable than a wooden pew and a kneeler?).
I know what you’re thinking… I have too many loved ones and friends who’ve been burned by Catholicism to surmise that it’s an ideal religion. That’s why I haven’t gone beyond attending mass and sitting complacently in the back with the divorcees and un-confessed who can’t partake of communion (thankfully, I know I can have communion with my Lord by means of a Cheerio and grape juice, as the need arises).
But at the same time, I wish, foolishly, there was a way to participate, to join in, without signing on man’s dotted line, without swearing fealty to the denomination, without silently agreeing with every doctrine by virtue of membership, without having to suppress my innate introvertedness in order to make it into the parking lot without feeling uncomfortable.
Is there hope? Yes.
As I was reminded this morning at Mass…
LOVE IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT.
Love your neighbor.
Funny how that last one is the hardest to follow, and how the innately introverted struggle with it the most. Go to church… wherever you can, wherever you are able to worship freely. God loves His introverted children just as much as He loves the extraverted ones! Of that, I am positive!
That said… maybe churches need to institute “introvert-friendly entrances/exits.”
Just a thought.