In 1995 a friend told me: "You know a 'Lutheran Girl' by her flat hair and Birkenstocks." I looked around me—sure enough, there were Lutheran Girls everywhere, including in the mirror.
I was as Lutheran as you could get. From the time I was baptized, I went to a Lutheran church, a Lutheran college, worked at a Lutheran Bible camp, did Lutheran Volunteer Corps and went to seminary at (you guessed it) Luther in St. Paul, Minn. This was all followed by participation and employment at various Lutheran churches around the country.
Naturally, when my husband got a job teaching at a small Wesleyan college in western New York, my first query on www.elca.org was "Congregations in or near Houghton, N.Y." Nothing. So for the first five years in New York, we commuted 90 minutes to attend a church where we felt comfortable and where my husband served as the choir director.
We managed to keep the folks in our community at arms-length during this time. What could we possibly have in common with a bunch of conservative, evangelical Wesleyans? And why would they want to befriend a couple of Democrats from Minnesota?
Our family (which now included three children) faithfully made the trip once a week to our beloved church. Our pastor there preached to us about what it meant to live in community and to be accepting of one another. My husband and I soon found ourselves having the same conversation on the drive home each week: was our calling as Christians to get together and huddle around people who thought the same, dressed the same and got teary-eyed at the same hymns? Or were we being called to be part of our own community and possibly provide a voice for deeper conversations?
Membership in a congregation where we felt comfortable was what was appropriate for us at the time. It fed us in ways that we needed to be fed. However, week after week we heard messages from our pastor and other voices that kept nudging us back to our little community.
Finally, we decided to stop hiding in what was comfortable and safe. We began to attend the church in our town. Now we attend Sunday school with the same people who brought us bread and cookies when we moved into town. We pray with the same people who prayed for me when my father died. And our kids learn the stories of Jesus with the kids they've been playing with their whole lives.
We still disagree about certain issues with some of the folks in our congregation, but that's OK. We are learning how to maintain a respectful dialogue with our friends and remain friends at the same time. And we are learning that some issues aren't worth fighting about relative to the "big picture." That is, liberal or conservative, Lutheran or Wesleyan, Birkenstocks or high heels. Christians are Christians. We share the simple, common purpose of loving one another in Christ Jesus.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers