Yesterday I returned from a few days in North Carolina visiting my best friend from my hometown. For about the last ten years I have been meaning to get out there to see her but time has flown and with the acceleration of life and work for both of us, we kind of lost touch. We reconnected last fall when her brother died and she came back to Minnesota for his funeral. As we stood in the funeral home and embraced and cried, I promised myself I would never let so much time ever pass again without getting together. True friends are far, far too precious to let slip away.
On Sunday I went with her to her church – a “independent Baptist” church near her home. It had been a long time since I was in a church like that. Very fire and brimstone-y, loud preaching. I wondered as I sat there what it is about that kind of preaching that draws people in? I didn’t hear a message of grace or love. There was no application to day-to-day life. I heard repeatedly that Jesus died for me and I needed to accept that now or be lost – but the way it was presented left me feeling really anxious. It was like being yelled at for 40 minutes. But maybe I was the only one who felt that way because the church was full! There are obviously people that really love this kind of presentation.
There were male ushers at every door. They greeted my friend’s husband and her two young adult sons as we came in the door but didn’t even look at me or my friend. I felt invisible as a woman in that space. There were no women visibly leading any part of the service. And yet, the church had tons of women in attendance – this lack of female leadership must not bother them?
I didn’t talk about any of this with my friend because it doesn’t matter a bit to me where she worships as long as she is happy and feeling fulfilled. I know she wants the same for me. I’m not going to come in and be judgmental to her about her place of worship. I feel happy that she welcomed me to come along with her. It was nice to sit with her and her family in worship even if it would never be the kind of place I would want to attend regularly. Also, it gave me some good reflection about Christian worship and why we do things the way we do.
Sometimes friendships die if differences are too great. However, sometimes relationships can still thrive if we learn how to be curious, not judgmental (as Ted Lasso would say). My dear friend sees a lot of things very differently than me but what a spectacular gift to still have time with her and see that even though we have both changed over the years, we can still learn from each other and laugh until our sides hurt and remember what it was like to be us growing up in rural Minnesota so long ago.