I used to feel really nervous going to church at The Dale on a Sunday. I grew up in a few different kinds of churches as a kid and teenager, but this was true for all of them: they were mid-sized in terms of the congregation, and controlled. I knew what songs were coming every week, I was told when to sit and stand, I was prayed on behalf of by the Pastor, and I went home after. It was comfortable.
Church at The Dale is not always comfortable. In fact, it is never usually comfortable. It can be awkward, tense, loud at the “wrong” times, and painful. With my anxiety, for a long time this was all I could focus on. But something switched in me after becoming a mother and coming back to The Dale. I still see the awkward and painful parts, but they don’t scare me as much. I am learning that these are the things that make it so beautiful and holy for me. I am learning so much from attending church at The Dale, especially about what it means to step out of my comfort zone, come into community however it looks, and sit with discomfort at times too.
Sometimes, people come into church in a bad space. They are angry, frustrated and sad. No doubt, this has happened to me as well. However, I can sometimes hide it better. People have come in crying, swearing, fighting, throwing. Folks cry during prayer, get angry at God, and tell the truth. We’ve had dogs eating communion bread with us, people preaching during community prayer time, painting, sewing, and playing on their phones. The sanctuary is quite large, and our congregation tends to be on the smaller side. So the loud and sometimes unexpected noises used to startle me. They can be what makes things feel awkward. People don’t shy away from being themselves at The Dale.
I need to reflect on this. What about people being themselves makes me uncomfortable? What about the unexpected is hard for me? Why do I care if things feel awkward? It’s because I wasn’t in control. I didn’t have control over the environment to make sure it was always perfect and safe. I didn’t have control over other people’s emotions and if they were sad or angry, which is hard for me. I didn’t have control over making sure everyone was “okay” at all times. But to be honest, this is something I will never be able to control.
I have been working a lot in therapy on perfectionism and how trying to be perfect adds to my anxiety. Learning to lean into releasing control has been hard, but I can see the fruits of my labour when I am sitting in church. People are going to come as they are, me included. All are welcome. Full stop. I can only control myself, and making sure that I am safe and that we as The Dale are a safe space as a whole. I can be a friend. I can pray with someone having a hard day. I can choose a hymn to sing that will lift someone’s spirit. I can mediate in a hard conversation. And I can leave the rest to God.
When we lean into His spirit, His safety, and His community and release control of how we think things “should” look, we can see the beauty that has always been there. We can see community members apologizing to each other during prayer time. We can see that our friends feel safe to come as they are and be themselves, whether that be sad or angry. We can see that God is making people softer where they need to be. We can hear the wisdom and profoundness of that prayer turned sermon during sharing time. We can pass the peace and serve communion knowing that community is so beautiful and a true gift, even when it is loud, awkward, and unexpected at times.
I am so grateful for the church we have at The Dale. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to come as I am too. I am grateful that I have been forgiven, and have been prayed over endlessly since the day I started working here. I am grateful for the chance to lean into feeling uncomfortable with my feelings, and with trying new things (such as when I did the teaching time in the summer last year). I am grateful that The Dale continues to be this: a welcome, safe space for all people to come as they are.
Peace to you this week. May you find the beauty in leaning into hard things.
I am a community worker at The Dale Ministries in Parkdale, Toronto. This work requires that I fundraise for my entire salary and ask for people like you to humbly support me financially in my work. If you enjoy this blog, love hearing about our community, and want to join me in this journey at The Dale by supporting my work, please visit https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/the-dale-ministries/ or email me at email@example.com.