Two Sundays ago Justin, Benjamin and I travelled to our first church outside of Legacy Fellowship. Let the church hunting begin! We went to the local Episcopal church to check it out.
A bit of background first. I grew up in a Pentecostal Assembly of God church. Loud, amazing, hard-core bible-thumping shout-it-from-the-rooftops faith. I loved growing up in the church I grew up in; those people were family to me. Over time I came to understand that for all the joy I experienced there, I also experienced a lot of judgement. Not me personally – but people I was friends with, people I knew… there was a lot of people just assuming that if you went up and had hands laid on you then you could be fixed by God. I don’t want to get too distracted by my experiences there: suffice it to say when I moved to Texas I found myself looking for a church a little more structured. Thanks to online friends I learned of the Episcopal faith and found a local church in Houston where I spent several very awesome years learning and growing. When it came time to move to Austin I had to think about if I wanted to remain as an Episcopalian or if I wanted to find something else. While I loved the Episcopal church I was a little put-off by it’s politics (especially then, back in ’06) and wanted to find something in between the structure of them and the fervor of the pentecostal church. A little while after moving to Austin, I found Legacy Fellowship. It wasn’t any specific denomination; it was always just a bunch of people trying to love God and each other. I fell in love with the people there. They were honest, they were loving, they weren’t perfect but they tried to be like Jesus. For me, Legacy was never about the sermons or the special events (both of which were always good and fun) but it was about the people. I liked that.
So now I find myself needing a new church and while the instant reaction would be to follow those people I don’t feel like that is what I need to be doing. I don’t know if that makes sense – it’s not like God is speaking to me or anything – it just doesn’t feel right when I think about it. So Justin and I decided to visit a bunch of different churches and see where we felt at home. Not immediately writing any church off, but letting us find a place that felt like coming home.
So two Sundays ago was our first venture out.
It was kind of a disaster.
We got there a few minutes early and the “welcome guy” gave us a tour. Beautiful, beautiful grounds. I loved that if nothing else. He brought us by the nursery, where we were greeted by two ladies who were already working with 2 children (who I later found out were their own 2 kids). We took Benjamin in, did the customary greeting, told them about the snacks and the water in his cup and left. When we left him he was happy and wandering off to play. The other kids were a bit older – maybe 2? But he looked content so I was happy to leave him to have fun.
When we got done in the nursery we turned around and realized the greeter who was giving us the tour had gone MIA. I guessed he had to go back to greeting and we meandered back to the main worship area.
When we got inside we were surprised at how many people were there. We took seats near the front of the church and were immediately struck by how many people had small children with them. The pamphlet for the service advised at the bottom that they had a “cry room” for parents with small children if needed during the service. Justin looks at me and comments that boy, there sure are a lot of kids in here, versus kids in the nursery. I ask him: “wonder if they know something we don’t?”
So anyways. The service advertises “contemporary” christian worship, and that is true, if it was 1985 (or maybe, if I’m a bit nicer, 1992). I’m sure it qualified as contemporary compared to their traditional service; but it was still nothing I had ever heard before and stuff that was difficult to follow. No worries, that happens, so I didn’t worry too much about that.
The children’s sermon was awesome. He spoke about Jesus, when he fed the multitude with some fish and loaves of bread. He did not have fish and loaves of bread, so he demonstrated with goldfish crackers (I loved it! Fish and bread all in one!) and talked about how God can use anyone, no matter how big or small. Very inspiring and he even worked a tiny message about communion into it, in a very easy kind of way that impressed me. It was cool to see him parallel big ideas with simple ideas for the kids – I would imagine later on in life, when they start to really grasp the last supper, that parallel will come back to help them understand.
The sermon was also very well done. I very much enjoyed listening to the scripture readings again and seeing the priest turn that into his own message was great. It reminded me of my years at the last Episcopal church I went to and that was fantastic.
My favorite part was communion. Being that I work every other Sunday, I missed a lot of Communions at my old church because we only did them once a month. I love communion. I love the meaning, the words, the… well, everything. That did not disappoint.
So sounds like everything went pretty good, right? We sat there afterwards and I was pretty happy with how the service had gone; I didn’t know if this was going to be our future church home, but it had been a really nice visit and I enjoyed the service a lot. Regardless of if we stayed or not, that was definitely something good.
Yeah. Except then we went to get Benjamin from the nursery.
They were in a different room than they had started in, so we almost walked right past them. They called over to us and as we walked in I saw Benjamin laying against one of the workers. His eyes were red. He looked exhausted. As soon as he saw us he held his arms out to us.
The workers, two females, said he had gotten a bit upset when he had realized we weren’t there. First thing they asked us was if he was teething. We said we didn’t know, maybe? He’s been teething off and on but hadn’t expressed any particular pains before the church service. They looked at each other and nodded.
Then they asked us if he was a stay-at-home-baby. Yes, I tell them, he stays at home with his Nanny when we’re at work. Again, they looked at each other. “See, I told you he was! I knew it!”
… I’m sorry? Was my child being a stay at home baby a big deal? Apparently so, because they then have this conversation:
“I hate to tell you this but he pretty much cried the whole time you were gone. Oh, and he chewed up one of our toys so badly we had to throw it away.”
“Yeah I saw it and showed it to [the other worker] and I was like, umm, OK looks like he chewed this up… it was pretty messed up so we went ahead and got rid of it, guess the kids won’t have that ear of corn to play with anymore…”
I was kind of floored. So was Justin. I comment to Benjamin, “Oh, baby, I’m sorry you didn’t have fun!” and apologized to the staff. I can’t remember exact words but it was something along the lines of, “I’m so sorry he was unhappy, I guess we’re suffering some of that separation anxiety, I’m so embarrassed he ate your plastic corn.” I then turned to Justin and said, “we’ll never be able to show our faces in this nursery again!”
I felt terrible.
But then I felt even more terrible; they seemed relieved at that idea. Of course they said “Oh, no, he’s a sweet boy” but it was probably the most insincere I’ve ever heard anyone talk about my son.
By the time I left I was in shock and Justin was thoroughly humiliated. If you know my husband you know his temperament; that pretty much ensured he would never step foot back on their property.
And then I got angry.
It took me a long time to write this out because I wasn’t sure if I should, I wasn’t sure if it mattered, I wasn’t sure our feelings were justified. But no matter how you look at it my feelings were hurt and I was embarrassed – and not because my son did something COMPLETELY NORMAL FOR A ONE YEAR OLD – but because the workers made me feel ashamed, as if I should have been a better parent or taught him better or had more small group time with him so he wouldn’t freak out. And Justin felt the same way – he said that he felt like they were judging our parenting skills based on the fact that our son chewed up their toy. They had children of their own; had they been so amazing that they couldn’t fathom a child chewing on something because it soothed them? Were they stay-at-home-moms who had time to be perfect, unlike us who are hardworking people trying to figure out this parenting thing?
Not even to mention where were they while he had time to chew a toy to the point of ruin?
I liked the church a lot. Justin was a little unsure of it, but this was pretty traditional compared to what he was used to. The church might have made it to our “maybe” list if not for the ridiculous shame the nursery workers made us feel. I walked away feeling judged over a piece of plastic corn.