Anxiety. I haz it. I'z had it for a long time. Forever, maybe.
It's well controlled now. I have had it much worse in the past. I remember telling my doc (this was 25 years ago) that I was terrified of being Vestryperson of the Day at a former church, because it meant I had to help usher and greet people.
He laughed at me (yes, he did) and said, "Well, people walking into church for worship on a Sunday morning are not particularly likely to attack you!"
Right. "Fear" is not the right word. It was anxiety about knowing what to say. About being able to make other people feel comfortable and welcome, when I felt miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin.
(This is background.)
Last week, there was a notice going around Facebook inviting people to wear black on Sunday the 14th in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. Then, that grew to encourage a visit to a Black church on Sunday the 14th.
So, I went to Saturday evening service at my own church, to meet our new rector who will start in the Spring. I acolyted there on Sunday at the early service. And then I drove to Dallas, to the Friendship-West Baptist church. I knew about that church because my friend Wil Gafney has preached there in the past, and I intended to go to that, but did not make it. I knew they were having a march and "pray-in" after the service.
First, I wondered if other options might be closer to me, so I Googled for churches nearer my own Episcopal church in Keller/Southlake. (If you do not know this area, and church culture, you are not laughing the way the local folks are. The closest AME or other black-identified churches are in Fort Worth.) So, I decided to make the trip to Dallas.
I arrived at the church in good time and sat in the parking lot for a few minutes. I was very, very nervous. Visiting a church of my own denomination is really hard for me! with people who have the same skin color as me! Would the people of Friendship-West think I was using them for my racial sensitivity project? Should I even go in?
Fortunately, I did.
I spoke to a nice lady at a welcome desk who told me how to get to the sanctuary. It's a HUGE facility and that wasn't immediately obvious.
I found a place to sit and felt very self-conscious. I didn't know the songs, there were no hymnals! Ack! But it didn't take too long before we were invited to hold hands with someone nearby and pray for them. And later to greet the folks around us. We sang some great songs and I realized that I was moving to the beat the way I do in my own church...usually I am the only one doing that :)
At some point I realized: This Is Not About You. I had a little laugh at myself. I calmed down some. I grew up being carted along to services at Assembly of God and charismatic churches, so really, it wasn't all that different from that. Except that was a long time ago, and there was not a racial difference then.
When I went up to put my offering in the basket, I saw my friend Wil! She gave the prayer at the end of the service.
People were so welcoming and gracious. It made me want to go back there again, and sing and really dance.
What did I learn, stepping across the barrier in the most segregated hour of the week? That I have nothing to be afraid of (which, really, I already knew that logically, but anxiety is not very logical). And yep, there is a lot to be angry about, ashamed of. There is a lot of work to do. There are a lot of people to sit beside.