Lessons from Leaving: Proximity

On the last Sunday of my Church–our last time together as a community–I am sitting on a folding chair next to a woman old enough to be my mother. She has become a dear friend. We are reminiscing about Urban Bridge Church. The good times we shared. How we came to be here. What it has meant for us.

She tells me of her first visit. I have heard the story but I want to hear it again. I like the story because in it, I look really good. I am speaking. Something about fear. About even Jesus being afraid. About fear, if Jesus felt it, not being a sin. Not being wrong. About fear being part of the deal.

Yeah, I guess that was a pretty good one.

I tell her about a walk I remember where she and her husband confided in me and my wife about their doubts. Their open wounds. Their very human selves. I tell her it was the first time I had heard this vulnerability from older people I respected. People I viewed as impenetrable. A viel was lifted that day. If I remember right, we were literally crossing a bridge at the time. Stopped in the middle, watching water trickle over rocks below.

It is just then, as we share little stories we’ve both heard before, that the real loss hits me.

Urban Bridge Church has meant a lot to me and my family. We’ve been there 9 years. Now it is over.

This past Sunday, I couldn’t go if I wanted. I couldn’t skip church, either. There is no church to skip now.

It would be a waste to leave those 9 years and not gather lessons from the rubble. Pieces to place into new puzzles of faith and community.

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I discover this first lesson as I realize the effort it is going to take to get together with this friend. She is much older than I am. We both work. We live a fair distance apart. Other than Urban Bridge Church, our social circles barely cross.

Proximity counts.

It is so simple, but of all the gifts my church gave me, this may be the richest. Every week I was thrown in a room with people I did not choose. We rubbed shoulders. We crashed and made sparks. We wove together into tapestries. We challenged. We just totally took each other for granted.

I’ll see all of these people again, somewhere and sometime. If and when we make the effort to make the plans. Some people I am close enough to call close friends. I’ll see them more. But still not every single week.

Community has so much to do with this basic ingredient. Proximity.

Here’s the first lesson I am taking with me. When you put people together in a room, week after week, magic happens.

Not magic you can plan for. Not magic you can control. But magic nonetheless.

And I already miss that magic.

This past week I sat in a room full of new strangers. People older than me. Some younger than me. Some similar to me, but most different. Most I would not know if didn’t get myself to church this Sunday.

These are my new partners in proximity.

If there is any argument for church as a time and place, still in these mobile-disconnected times, it may be this.

Proximity matters.

Presence transforms.

The people we can take for granted make this life worth living.

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