We had left our former church shortly after the eclectic, vibrant small group we had been part of ended abruptly with the Parkinson’s diagnosis of one of the leaders. Although we persisted with the larger church for a while, my tenuous connection broke the week after one particular Sunday service. That Sunday, the pastor had invited the congregation into dialog, asking people to submit questions to the pastoral staff on 3 x 5 cards, and mine was simple: When is the church going to resolve its less than affirmative position about women in leadership? The question was a real one for me as seminary student, and a bit of a nudge because our small group, which had been twenty-five strong, had been led by two women. Later that week, the pastor called and I was invited into a phone conversation – not a sit-down, not coffee at Starbucks – but a chat on the phone about this church’s ambivalence about women in leadership. Granted, I am sure that the pastor was busy and trying to get through the stack of questions that he had invited, but I hung up that day with the sense that he did not want to meet with me because I was a woman. If my husband had written the question, my sense was that this pastor would have been meeting him for coffee. Fair or not, I was done.
Three years later, we were still not regular attenders anywhere, but now we were parents with a two-year-old and a newborn, who needed more spheres of belonging than we and our small group of Southern California transplant friends could provide. Finding a church was on our minds. At Library Park one weekend, we recognized fellow parents from our Bradley Birthing class, Ben and Ivy. Knowing their Fuller affiliations, we started the church conversation and they pointed out the Community Center across the street as the meeting space for Mountainside Communion. We decided to try.
After a few Sundays of attending, I approached Josh as post-service conversations were dying down to ask about the structure of the service. I figured there was an order to the way in which the morning unfolded, but it was not evident to me and I was curious. Josh responded by suggesting we get together for coffee and named the Starbucks by Pavilions. I was surprised. The liturgy of the morning was a fairly straightforward topic and not an intense one like women in ministry, but Josh had suggested meeting for coffee. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow. Josh is not afraid of women.”
While that first coffee was just the start of an ongoing conversation about church life, it symbolized more. It formed for me a bookend to my previous pastor experience and ushered in an entirely new experience of church, one in which each person using her or his gifts matters.
That was eight years ago. While we were looking for a place to attend church, what we found was a place of participation and a people who have fostered in our daughters the belonging that we had hoped for.