The walk to Peace was, as you would expect, peaceful. At 9:00 on a Sunday morning, the campus was virtually empty, and as on most winter days, the sun did not shine. I detoured through the Conservatory to grab my violin and then set-off across Tappan Square to church. It was a journey I often took alone, and I unzipped my coat to feel the cold, winter air against my chest. Obnoxiously, I walked in the snowy grass, making fresh footprints with my boots. If I had memorized the words to “Morning Has Broken,” I might have sung them then, but instead I let my mind wander to whatever song was in my dream the night before. When I entered Peace Community Church, I could smell, see and hear the warmth, pumping through the air from the old heaters. And taking off my coat and boots as if I were in my home, I walked in my socks to the front of the sanctuary. It was there, after all of our walks, that my Oberlin church family, met to worship, Baptist style…
As much as I would like to present an unbiased representation of every church I visit, that is impossible. I have experienced too many church communities to enter these congregations without a denominational expectation in the back of my mind. The Disciples of Christ were the exception—I had never visited a Disciples church before this summer. But I have experienced the American Baptists, in the most profound and greatest way. In a way, I was excited to visit an American Baptist Church, but prepared for disappointment. Peace Community Church was perfect for me because of so many elements, pieces of the puzzle that are now scattered around the world. My friends that are now clergy or working abroad, the cold winters that I miss so much, the pastors, the congregation, the selfless dedication to peace, acceptance and social justice…and that was Oberlin. This is Kansas City.
Prairie Baptist reminded me of something I had forgotten in my long list of expected disappointments. Though the American Baptist Church is a recognized, legitimate denomination, in the end, when push comes to shove (and excuse my language), American Baptists do pretty much whatever the hell they want. Not that I haven’t seen denominational politics at work within the church, but the congregations seem to stand on their own, supporting the interests and ideals of the congregants. Some would say the lack of a hierarchy is what makes organizations fall apart. I am grateful that this lack of hierarchy allows congregations like Peace and Prairie to exist.
So, a comparison is unreasonable and unnecessary. What is important is the relevance of the church in the community in which it exists. Prairie had an impressive relevance, as the pastor addressed issues of science and religion, two entities that are always at odds in Kansas. She spoke of moving forward and encouraging change, scientific and otherwise. The music had elements of the old and treasured (“How Great Thou Art”) as well as the contemporary and challenging (there were drums involved). And though the baby-blue paint on the walls made me ponder my own comfort with churches that exist outside of white or wood, I felt welcomed and warm. There were times when I even felt uncomfortable in the good way that church is supposed to make you uncomfortable.
My cold, lonely walk became a car ride with my mother. The warmth in the air became the sun shining through the windows. My friends from Oberlin became two acquaintances from an old job, who displayed great welcome in their invitation to join them.
Just like I’ve been told that I will never have friends that are like my friends from college. I will never feel as alive or as motivated as I did during those five years. I can never relive that experience. I also know that I will never find a church like Peace or a community like the Christian community in Oberlin. But Prairie gives me a degree of hope that there are relevant, welcoming churches out there that may be able to put someone like me to work for God.