In the last six months that I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve been to church three times. It’s not really because I’m busy, nor is it because I work on Sundays (I don’t). For the most part, I like having a lazy Sunday. Yet in such a populated area as Portland is (compared to Eugene, anyway), it’s difficult to find a small congregation. I highlight this because I’m terribly introverted and being in rooms of a 100 or more people is draining in and of itself. I don’t even have to talk to anyone to feel drained.
This is where my time at George Fox Seminary comes into play. In the absence of a fellowship on Sundays, hanging out at the seminary has been a great replacement. I’m not always going to encounter the same people from day to day, but I’m going to encounter just enough people to have a (somewhat) healthy social life – at least, for an introvert.
Most of the conversations don’t dive too deeply; “Hey, how’s your paper going?” or “What classes do you have today?” are some of the more generic things you might get asked on a regular day. Over time, though, the topics shift to “Hey, I liked what you said in class,” or “I heard about your grandpa’s cancer; how’s he doing? How are you doing?” Not long after those topics come up, even deeper ones arise: “So, where are you from? What’s your story?”
There’s something rather mystical about the act of sharing your story, being vulnerable, and giving someone else the opportunity to see life from your perspective. In an age of instant file-sharing, books being read through movies, and the (supposedly) fictional mind-melds, it seems we tend to grow accustomed to instant information. Yet when someone’s sharing their story, everything slows down. As memories arise – both painful and joyous – uncontrollable emotions may rise with them. When that happens, the story is now no longer about information-gathering; it’s about feeling what someone else feels – inasmuch as it is possible to do so.
In the past seven days I’ve shared my story with half a dozen different people. Most weeks are not like this at all. But with as busy as I’ve been with research, work, reading, and regular assignments, I needed it. And if my seminary wasn’t my place of fellowship, I may not have had it. And if I didn’t have the opportunity to recount my story, I wouldn’t have been reminded of why I do what I do.
Seminary has become my “every day” setting and has provided a fellowship of sorts that I didn’t have before and yet was in dire need of. It’s a place to hear others’ stories and to share my own. With as busy as all our lives are between work, school, and whichever form of social life we may have, having that space to share stories is crucial. Stories remind us of where we’ve been and simultaneously of where we’re going. Life becomes pretty dull when we lose sight of that – when we lose sight of our story.
In your “every day” setting, what’s the fellowship like? What are some of the conversations had or stories shared? If you’re in a seminary setting, what’s it like where you are?