I'm a preacher's kid and when I was around 5 - 8 years old we lived in a house connected to our church.
That might sound like torture but I absolutely loved it. For one thing, we moved there from a smallish city home and I was in awe the size of this one. It had three stories of huge rooms and high ceilings. And it was old and had all these very cool features I had never seen. I was enchanted. So it was a combination of a little world to explore + playground. It was like one of those dreams where...
... you keep finding new rooms to your house: I felt like I could always keep discovering stuff there.
There were heavy dark wooden pocket doors and fireplaces in almost every room. I would push the little buttons in the pocket doors that made a latch pop out to pull the door closed. The fireplaces weren't functional but they had tile hearths where I would tap dance because it made the most fantastic clicking sound with my tap shoes.
There was even a secret passageway - a little space you could crawl through the wall from my brother's closet into another closet (maybe remnants of a laundry chute?) - and a huge attic. Can you imagine how much fun we had playing hide-and-seek?
I had an enormous bedroom with ballerina wallpaper, near floor-to-ceiling windows where I would sit and watch the town's parades pass right in front of the house, a closet that was so big I would sit in there and play house, and my very own tile-hearth fireplace to tap dance on.
Even the entry of the home captivated me. There were thick wooden double doors with beveled glass that opened into a waiting area, followed by another set that opened into the home. Not only was the entry another hide-and-seek option but it pretty much made me smile every time I walked through after school. I felt like something from a movie where you walk keep walking through sets of doors until you're in a different land.
And the stairs! They were twice as wide and felt twice as high as any other house. Just going up and down the steps was a fun adventure. I would do that just for fun!
Sidebar... I wonder whether my mother welcomed the fact that I had so much built-in entertainment or whether my constant noise-making and motion were a tad much...
The basement of this house was even cool. It was just an unfinished cellar. It had a storm door entrance from the outside but I could go down regular steps from the inside. A bunch of college kids from our church turned it into a coffee house called The Grotto and The Saltmine. It was the 1970's and I got to go downstairs in my basement and listen to college kids play "If I Had a Hammer" and "Blowin in the Wind" on their guitars.
Just as fascinating to me was the fact that there were college kids living on either side of this house & church (because we lived in a college town). The TKE fraternity was on the church side and a bunch of boys who played frisbee in their front yard a lot were on the house side. I was quite taken with two of them. Their names were Mitch and Clay.
You can tell how much of an impression they made that over 40 years later I still remember their names.
I also remember that one or both of them came over to visit me after I had my tonsils out...
Can you imagine?
I had absolutely no idea any of this was so unique but I have yet to meet another person with quite this combination of living arrangements. If you're out there, please let me know!
Usually I didn't think about the church being connected to our house. I just stayed in the house part and tap danced and played hide-and-seek and watched The Partridge Family and recovered from having my tonsils out.
But there were these still, quiet, holy moments in the evening sometimes. My dad would be doing something in the sanctuary and I would wander in there in my pajamas. The room would be dim but the street lights would be shining through the stained glass windows. My dad would be putting something somewhere; moving something around.
I would sit down on a pew or the organ bench and look around. I felt enveloped by complete peace. I felt surrounded by something transcendent. I felt content and complete.
It was like the period at the end of a sentence.
I felt like the church was possibly even better than home. Even a home as fascinating as the one right down the hallway.
The house made my senses come alive. It fed my eyes and ears and muscles and imagination.
The church made the eternal part of myself come alive. It fed my soul.
We moved out of the house attached to the church when I was in 2nd grade so that my parents, who had both grown up in apartments, could own a home of their very own. The house connected to the church became church offices and Sunday school rooms. My dad continued to pastor that church for around 30 more years. I spent lots and lots of time there, and it was always near and dear to my heart.
Church and home are pretty intertwined for me.
I'm over 50 years old now and I think with every passing year since adulthood I've learned more and more how the church doesn't feel like home for most people. I've learned that it signifies everything from ambivalence to excruciating pain to the unknown to absolutely nothing at all.
That devastates my heart.
I wish we all knew comfort, completeness, wholeness, and contentment in our souls from church.
We had no scandals in all those decades at my church. Disagreements - of course. Imperfect people with problems - absolutely. But somehow a very diverse mix of people shared life and took care of one another. It was a place where international students and professors from the nearby college, people with disabilities, and people of all ages and races and income levels spent time together and enriched each other's lives. It was the place people gathered when the Vietnam War ended. It was where I got together with a bunch of kids and went trick-or-treating for UNICEF and visited people in nursing homes. We had a Jewish Seder every year and my mom took her Sunday school class to different churches around town. Sick people and poor people and addicted people were served. It was where we met our best family friends. The parishioners became like extended family. All kinds of extra aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I've been around enough other churches and clergy and preachers' kids to know that I wasn't the only person who had wonderful experiences with church.
If you had horrible experiences with church and it's turned you off altogether, I encourage you to give it more chances. Just like you wouldn't swear off all stores based on your experiences at Wal-Mart or all restaurants based on McDonald's or all people of the opposite sex based on your experiences with some of them, please know that churches are as different from each other as one store or restaurant or hotel is from the others. They have different styles and emphasize different facets of the faith.
I'm praying for you to return to or find the place that connects you to the eternal part of your soul, and that you will know completeness.