Anyone who has spent much time around our family knows that we are regulars at a particular wholesale warehouse chain. Though you might not think a family of four needs to buy goods in bulk, there are actually quite a few things we regularly purchase to stock our home. Almost every Monday I make my way to said store for our weekly needs. That kind of regularity means that you get to know the staff – those who greet you, those who serve samples, and those who check your receipt on the way out. My oldest daughter has her favorites, and we always greet them by name. My regularity in shopping also meant that the employees were able to track my pregnancy and are now enjoying greeting our newest addition.
Of course, most of this I do not regularly notice unless I have a guest with me. This past weekend a friend was visiting and she, the baby, and I went to our favorite store. My friend was witness to our odd familiarity. A staff person who gives out samples warmly greeted me, “Oh, you had the baby! How exciting! And you look great!” One employee was on break and not in her usual spot, so we talked about her station and her shift for the day. Another employee asked as we were checking out, “Where’s your oldest today?” My friend and I later joked about how I was like a celebrity at the store – or how maybe I should be the store chaplain.
The funny thing is that I am not sure anyone at the store knows that I am a priest. I usually shop on my days off, so I rarely, if ever, have shopped in my collar. Part of me is happy to have a place where I am not Jennifer the priest. I am able to be just the regular with the engaging kids. But part of me wishes I were known as Jennifer the priest. Though I joked about being the store chaplain, there is a part of me that really would love to be known as a pastoral resource for the everyday people we have come to know at our favorite store.
I have been thinking about that realization this week, and I have come to a few conclusions. One, I realized this store is sort of like that bar in the TV Show Cheers – a place where everybody knows your name. There is something to being known and feeling welcome that is quite comforting. In fact, when we first relocated to Long Island, this store was one of the first ones I sought out because the store is the same no matter where you go. I enjoyed that familiarity. Two, though familiarity is nice, it is not the same as having people who really know you – not just the outside stuff, but all of your story: the trials you have faced, the joys you have celebrated, and challenges you have conquered. And three, there is only so much one can expect from an hour each week – especially when there is so much going on: product to reshelf, samples to push, receipts to check.
What struck me is that what I am looking for at this store is what many of us are looking for when we come to church. Yes, we want to seek and serve Christ in all persons and we want an experience with God, but we also want a community that makes us feel welcome and where we can be known and loved. We want a place where people are glad we came, and who are willing to pull up a chair (or bar stool) and talk about real life. And just like with church, there will only be so much we can do with one hour on a Sunday. If we are in and out, enjoying the busyness of worship without engaging in anything else, we will find true fulfillment difficult. What I am still unsure about is whether “church” has to take place in a building with a steeple, or whether we can make “church” happen elsewhere – even in the line for samples.