All eyes turned as I walked through the doors. Being that there were only a handful of parishioners in a very small venue, there was no way to just quietly slip in the back. Besides, there is no “back” when there are only 3 rows of seating. And alas, one cannot be stealth while wearing a rustling raincoat drenched in water.
This time however, the priest recognized me. Instead of the smile welcoming a stranger who obviously stumbled into the wrong place and at the wrong time the first time I came here, I was given a beautiful welcome back smile. Perhaps, she now thinks that I purposely choose to barge smack in the middle of her sermons (being given in Spanish) and be the only gringa in the pews.
During all of my youth, I was fearful of new situations. Shy Violet was the nickname my mother gave me. I was terrified of walking into any group settings and easily embarrassed if any attention was put on me. Slip quietly in the back and draw no attention to oneself. That was my mode of operation.
Later, after the Latino Service, the Latino Coffee Hour, the English Service, and then the English Service Coffee Hour, I volunteered to help put back a classroom that had been recently painted. The church has rented out space for an Adult ESL program during the week. Only 3 of us stayed to do the move.
Due to the torrential rains these last few days, the paint in the room was still wet. Found this out while pulling off the masking tape around the windows and electrical junction boxes.
90 minutes later, we were done. My hands were filthy and paint covered. Asking where I could wash my hands, I was led into another building. This time, I walked into the Indonesian Christian Church’s Coffee Hour (another group that rents out space at St. Matthew's). Once again, heads turned. Many smiles and heads nodding, I had to walk straight through the middle of the group to get to the sink.
This was not going to be a day of being clandestine in any shape or form.
Done with my washing up, I turned, and immediately a woman put in my hands a bowl of hot Ramem-type of soup. “Eat, sit” I was told. And I did. And it was delicious. Again, many smiles were directed at me, and though little English was spoken, I knew I was in the midst of God’s hospitality and love.
Today, I could hear my mother laughing and beaming at me. Thanks to God, I continue to be given experiences that challenge those old fears. May I always remember what it’s like to be a stranger and yet be welcomed, and may I always be the one to welcome a stranger as well.