sports blog by andy shenk

Alien in a Familiar Land

In Musings, San Antonio Spurs on May 4, 2012 at 7:50 PM

Last weekend I attended the Western District Synod of the Moravian Church in America, Northern Province. Though blessed with a fancy name, this gathering of Moravian clergy and lay leaders in Appleton, Wisconsin numbered no more than one hundred. In all, the Western District lays claim to thirty-five churches, mostly located in the Upper Midwest, with a few outlying congregations calling North Dakota, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and California home.

I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the synod. I knew a few people, yet I felt lost in the midst of such a tight-knit group of clergy and lifelong Moravians. One hundred people isn’t much to deal with, nonetheless, it unnerved me after so many months of quiet, peaceful marriage. My wife, Nikki, and I hardly go out, and when we do, we only meet with a friend or two. As for my work as a job coach, well, I keep that painfully extroverted aspect of my life separate from my world at home with my wife. No sooner do I leave the building in the afternoon than I forget what happened during the day and its incessant, chaotic jumbling of dozens of relationships with colleagues and clients. During this time in my life, I feel satisfied relationally–I understand the importance of pursuing friendships outside of my relationship with my wife–yet I have no driving urge to do so.

So, on Thursday evening, I quietly settled into my seat at the far edge of the semicircle encompassing the synod delegates. Thankfully, I had no one sitting to my left. Instead, one of the projector screens stretched there from the floor to the ceiling, drawing in most of the attention that might otherwise have been paid to my seating area. My wife, as a visitor to the synod, sat at the back of the hall, in a row of chairs placed behind the official synod assembly. Now, as I would for rest of the synod, I glanced over at Nikki, emotionally, if not intellectually, aware of how odd it felt to sit so far from each other, separated by strangers. Each time we met after general assemblies or committee sessions, our closeness and affection for one another, in the midst of such unfamiliarity, soothed me.

Following welcomes and announcements, the synod split for the first time into committees. I took a seat in a small conference room, where the ten members of our group circled up. The committee chair, pastor of the Wisconsin Rapids Moravian Church, led us in initial introductions. Having met one another, our friendly interaction took a more serious turn. Each chair had received a small slip of paper, listing five questions for the group to discuss. Taken directly from our synod scripture, the New Testament book of Ephesians, the questions challenged us to speak vulnerably about our most beautiful and our most disgusting moments. Each of us accepted the invitation and honesty spilled out of our mouths. A successful businessman, clergy, highly-educated professionals, even a job coach, shared with one another on a level that friends often take years to reach. Perhaps emboldened by our convergence on this committee from such far-flung locales as Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, California, and our inevitable dispersion again by Sunday afternoon, we opened up in ways that those held by daily bonds rarely do. I heard some speak of divorce, of betrayal, of failures. Words of renewal, transformation, and love rang out, too. At the end of the evening we looked around the room and saw only brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our committee rejoined the others in general assembly around nine pm.  Corporate worship closed our day. Afterward, Nikki and I found each other quickly and somewhat sheepishly slipped out of the crowd of Moravians to our car, so that we could drive to her parents’ home to spend the night. Almost everyone else remained behind at the hotel to continue conversations and renew long-standing friendships. The emotions of close intimacy in the committee had subsided quickly when I left the room; seated amongst the others during worship, and leaving the hotel, I felt natural awkwardness saying good night to those with whom I’d been so vulnerable. We still hardly knew one another, and so I snuck out with Nikki for her parents’ home where we could watch the Spurs’ final game of the season, a road contest with the Golden State Warriors.

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