Last night, I had a remarkable experience of church.
Dan sent a google calendar invitation to a storytelling event at Shamrock’s bar that included music by John Hermanson. Shamrock’s is owned by my junior year prom date. I love storytelling and John Hermanson and beer. Plus we were meeting two amazing friends. Monday night date! I was a bit taken aback, then, when I realized the night was hosted by Humble Walk Church. They host Theology Pub and Beer & Hymn nights. The first person I interacted with was a server asking if she could get me a beer. I could get used to this.
It took one note coming out of John Hermonson’s throat to melt me into a puddle. His voice, we decided, is like John Denver’s– crisp and clear like a mountain river. Perfectly raw and controlled. Surprisingly vulnerable. So so beautiful. His voice has the power to bring me back over time and space to exceedingly happy memories of life in Denver, memories of Storyhill concerts, of my wedding, of road trips and quiet nights. To me he is better than John Denver because his music, his voice, has accompanied me in this life. While he covered a gorgeous song by Danny Schmidt, the two women in front of me reached for each other’s hand. It felt like home.
I saw friends from seminary I hadn’t seen in years. Friends who believe in working on Sundays and call themselves sinners and experiment with how to ask big questions. It felt like I belonged.
The theme was When the Sinners/Saints go marching in. I cried during all four stories. They were funny and sad and got at the stuff of life. They talked about death and aging and addiction and love. We nodded along with them. We’re all just hobbling along together in this life. This one messy, crazy fast life. As pastor Jodi Hogue wrote on their blog:
The best way to describe this event is that it’s an open-hearted thing. When you stand up in public and tell the truth about your life, not only are the listeners right there with you–but they are also making connections with their own lives. It opens up the room in a raw, insightful and often humorous way. The listeners feel as if they have received a gift. And then, we have the bonus of a guest singer/songwriter who give us stories and truth crafted into song. Sigh. It’s all so good.
A few people commented as they left. “This is the most Spirit-filled experience I have had in months.” Another said, “I feel like this unfroze my heart.” Ultimately, we leave the bar feeling not quite so alone in the world.
I, like so many people, have a complicated relationship with church. I often feel more comfortable in the religion classroom than in religious worship. I like studying theology as a discipline. I love teaching theology, too. And because I work with young people at a church, I don’t sit and bask in worship. I’m a professional Christian. I don’t get to take the chair in the back, close my eyes and be fed by the warmth of other people’s art and honesty. By their truth and their story. And cry at the goodness of it all. It was so good. It was church.
In the end I do believe.