On Joining a Church and Finding a Place

Sometimes we have days that just make us feel that we are in the right place doing the right thing.  Yesterday was that sort of day for me.

Since leaving North Carolina over a year ago, I have struggled to find a place where I felt I truly fit.  I thought that returning home to the Florida Panhandle would do it, but it failed in that regard, spectacularly.  Which is why I started looking for ways out and places to go, finally settling on Williamsburg.  Sure, it helped that I had good friends here (and they are certainly the primary reason that I chose this area), but there were lots of other things to recommend Williamsburg in particular and Virginia in general.

First, Williamsburg is a college town.  While Colonial Williamsburg is central, the College of William and Mary is just as central, and more so in some ways.  These two places are so central that it is almost impossible to drive anywhere in town without driving through the grounds of either, and normally both.

Second, Williamsburg is really close to Richmond and Norfolk, both towns that have decent music venues that bring through musicians that I care about seeing, even if I haven’t gotten out to a concert yet.  Also, I would really like to finish my MDiv and my proximity to Richmond means a proximity to Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond where I can finish my degree.

Third, Virginia, like North Carolina, is a center for moderate Baptist life and Williamsburg is home to two CBF affiliated congregations.

It was always a plan of mine that after getting here and getting somewhat settled in, I would begin to go out into the community, get involved in a congregation and participate in events that happen on campus.  Yesterday, I got more than my feet wet.  I jumped straight into the deep end.

When I first came to Williamsburg, I attended one of the churches for a few services.  While the people were lovely, I never really felt that it was a place that I could settle into.  So a few weeks ago, I decided that I would give Walnut Hills Baptist Church a try.  Almost from the start I knew that it was the place that I needed to be.  In some very important ways, it reminded me of my congregation in Winston-Salem, Knollwood Baptist.

All this to say that yesterday morning I joined Walnut Hills as a member.  It was special in a number of ways.  There were five baptisms yesterday.  When I met with Dr. Tony Neal, the Pastor, last week to speak with him about joining the church, I expressed my trepidation about joining on a Sunday with so many Baptisms.  I especially didn’t want to take away from the young people who were Baptized.  Dr. Neal made a good point though: if I joined on that Sunday, it would serve as a significant reminder to people that there are so many different ways to bring people into the church.  And I think that he was right.  The end result of the Baptisms and my joining the church was that the front of the sanctuary was lined with the “receiving” line after the service, the young people and their families and me, all lined up to be welcomed into the church.  It was so refreshing to be welcomed into a Christian community and have people mean it!  Every “we are so glad that you have joined us” every “I am thankful that you found Walnut Hills” every handshake and every hug (and you know I don’t like hugs!) felt real and heart felt.

As a slight aside (although it certainly didn’t feel like an aside) I heard words yesterday welcoming me into a congregation that I never thought I would hear again.  I still hold myself to the standard that is laid out in the United Methodist membership liturgy: “Do you pledge to support this congregation with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service so that in everything God may be glorified?”  While I have been out of the United Methodist fold for over a decade now, I heard that phrase so much as a child that I will never be able to forget it.  It has worked its way down into my soul.  This will always be my “standard” for congregational membership.  I mentioned this to Dr. Neal last week when we met and yesterday he welcomed me into Walnut Hills with those words, words, I thought I would never hear welcome me into a congregation again.  I got a little weepy.

There was more to the day yesterday, not the least of which was getting to hear and meet Rachel Held Evans.  However, some of these things I am still processing.  I am going to have the chance to meet with and hear Rachel two more times today, so expect at least one “RHE-centric” post this week and possibly more.

Yesterday was a significant day.  I’m going to be unpacking it for quite a while.


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