What it Means to Church

When God dragged me kicking and screaming back to Charlotte, I began a new season of my life. The sun of that season, which warmed the ground and made things grow, was The Gathering–a nondenominational church meeting in an elementary school gym.

Until The Gathering, I had always attended church. It was as necessary as attending school. The Gathering, however, spurred me on to something more. It wasn’t just a corporate worship event. It was a community of friendly smiles that made me feel like Sunday morning was home–like I had friends even though I was new. They taught me that being a part of the church was so much more rewarding than being a member of a congregation. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to miss a Sunday because I didn’t want to miss the love and support of that relationship.

I can’t lie. I joined their children’s ministry because I thought it’d help me get a job. You know they say connections are key and volunteer work is what builds them. But all that changed in an instant when I showed up the first Sunday to work with kids. Before the service began, Pastor Derwin came back to pray with us. The head of the children’s ministry grabbed me and said, “Derwin! This is the one we have been praying for!” I knew then, that I wasn’t there for me. I can’t describe that feeling–to be needed that much, to be an answer to prayer. It was such a boost in confidence that it stirred a powerful sense of humility in me.

I was a part of the Gathering for eight years, working in the children’s ministry as much as I could. It was the longest I had ever attended a single church. And it was the first time I was really a part of a church.

Through them, I learned of One7 Ministries, which became my passion and the start of my teaching career. I gained invaluable friendships that have lasted through thick and thin. I found loving accountability and genuine connections. Through them, I found what it really meant to church.

The Gathering closed their doors this summer. It was the end of a season for all of us, and God is ushering us on to the next. He has sent us out to bear witness, and all the things we’ve gained from that community will be shared.

So we will “go out with joy and be lead forth with peace (Is 55:12).” …There’s not too many mountains around here, and far more buildings than trees, but… I think the sentiment is still there.

Thank you, Gathering, for your part in my life!

My Counselor

My chronic episodes of loneliness usually attacked me in the night when everyone I knew was out with the neon lights and world-erasing music.

But one time, I had an episode in the middle of the day. It happened some time after I had met the angel man in the middle of the night. This afternoon, the college campus felt more empty than usual as I made my way back to my dorm. I didn’t want to get there. There was nothing to do and no one to see. So I walked as slowly as possible on the longest route I knew.

It wasn’t long enough. And as much as I hated the emptiness around me, I was uncomfortable with seeing people. So after running into two or three strangers, I decided to get off the path. I ducked under some low branches to explore a little piece of the campus I had never seen before. It brought me to small, man-made pond. And following what must be some crazy instinct in me, I sat down next to the water’s edge and stared into it as if in a trance.

It was peaceful, but it wasn’t making me feel peaceful. The peacefulness was outside of me—all around me. While on the inside, I burned.

Every once in a while, I’d hear someone walking on the path nearby and look up to see feet through the underbrush. They passed me by without notice. I didn’t want them to notice me. But then again, if they did happen to see me, I wanted them to come running to comfort me.

Once again, I cried out to God for someone to talk to. Someone to notice me and say, “Hey, what’s wrong? Wanna be best friends? Tell me everything you feel right now.” Not that I knew how to put anything into words. Some sincere company would be nice.

“I don’t care who it is,” I told God, “I’d talk to anyone, just give me another chance! I need someone!”

There was a sound of something coming through the trees behind me. I started thanking God and turned around to meet my new best friend.

A giant turtle, big enough to ride on, slid down the slope behind me and came to rest within reach. He looked me straight in the face and then pulled himself into his shell. And sat there, unmoving.

“Har, har,” I said out loud to God. Where did this thing even come from? There was nothing behind me except a small group of trees and the sidewalk leading to the campus apartments. Surely, a turtle that big hadn’t walked across the cement path without drawing a lot of attention. Seriously, if I’d curled up into a ball, I’d be the same size as the turtle.

But then I thought, Well, maybe this was who God wants me to talk to. Maybe talking to this animal will bring me peace. …Or maybe God is laughing right now.

I considered the turtle. If it was God’s answer to my prayer, it could be therapeutic to talk to it. Or I could look like a lunatic. I made several honest attempts. I opened my mouth and then closed it again without making a sound—terrified that a real human being would hear me and laugh.

Finally I gave up. The turtle wouldn’t even poke its head out of its shell. It didn’t want to talk to me—or listen to me, rather. And as fascinated as I was at this giant (and no doubt ancient) turtle, I was starting to feel restless sitting there in what could only be God’s idea of a joke. With a small amount of anger towards the situation, I got up and pushed my way through the trees, back to the cement path, leaving my counselor behind.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. 

John 14:16-17

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