I tried several churches in Florida with poor results. Finding transportation was sometimes very difficult, especially if I wanted to participate in activities beyond attending Sunday morning worship. Developing meaningful relationships was an even greater problem. One church leader responded to my concern by saying, "You know a lot of people!" I was confused by her response until I realized that she must be under the impression that I "knew a lot of people" because a significant number of people had learned my name and said hello to me on Sunday mornings. None of them initiated meaningful conversation beyond asking about my dog or called or invited me to lunch.
When I talked with the small group leader at one church about this problem, he responded that he had observed that the people in the group were all quite a bit younger than I was and were very self-centered. He did not attempt to address the problem or suggest any ways that I could break through the barriers.
In early 2004, I went several months without attending church. I was just too tired and discouraged to try again. Finally, one of my roommates convinced me to accompany her to a new church. I went reluctantly; and after the service, I spoke to the pastor about my fears about the potential difficulties with forming friendships. He began encouraging me to reach out to people. Great, I thought. Like always, I have to do all the work.
"What I'm afraid of," I said, "is the possibility that people will not reach back."
"Well, you reach out, and I'll pray."
The two-fold approach worked fairly well. It probably would have worked even better if it had been a three-fold approach: my reaching out, his prayer, and some awareness/sensitivity activities and a call to action. I was able to form a friendship with the worship leader, a lady who was near my age and who shared a common interest in music. Our friendship developed rather slowly, and she expressed some reservations at times. It was important for both of us to confront feelings about disability and about relationships, real and perceived responsibilities, and to set appropriate boundaries. Ideally, it would also have been best for me to have formed additional relationships that were meaningful in the church; and it would also have been helpfl for additional members of the church to be assisting with meeting some of the practical needs I had in becoming able to participate fully in the activities of the church. I did not live there long enough for this to happen.
I moved back to Anderson in the fall of 2004 due to the difficulty of coping with hurricane threats. I was disappointed to leave the church in Florida; but I had learned a lot about my faith and about my relationship with the body of Christ during the few months I spent there. These lessons would help to prepare me for my experiences upon moving back to Anderson.