When this is posted, I’ll be visiting Midtown Church for the last time as a regular attender. It’s going to be a very difficult and bittersweet day for me. I can’t imagine the emotions I’ll be feeling. I’m leaving a body of believers who have loved, encouraged, strengthened, and embraced me in ways I haven’t been able to accept up until my first visit. I have learned and grown a lot in the past two and a half years. The next steps I’m taking wouldn’t be without the experience I had there.
I remember my first visit very clearly. All I wanted was to have temporary fellowship with other Christians. I had plans to join another church I already had an existing relationship with, but it wasn’t possible at the time. I was just passing through, and I made it clearly known to anyone that approached me. I didn’t tell anyone, but I wasn’t even going to return a second Sunday. Their love for me, a stranger, changed my mind and my heart.
I joined the congregation for the first time on December 7th, 2014. It was a dark season for me, which was one of the many reasons I had for never intending to remain there long enough to be known. Christmas was getting ever so nearer and things were just getting worse inside of me because of it. I just wanted it all to be over with so that the reminders of my struggles at that point would disappear. I was alone and approaching despair. The sooner Christmas could be over, the better I’d feel about the isolation I was in at the time. I was ready to force it to be over, but that’s when I got a message that changed everything.
Christmas Eve came and I was on the verge of despair. “I’ll just sleep through this”, I thought. I had a bottle of Captain Morgan on hand ready to knock myself out with. The second I opened the bottle, I got a private message on Facebook. To my surprise, it was from Corey Smith, the pastor at Midtown. He asked me for my phone number so he could give it to someone he had introduced me to. I gave it to him not thinking anything of it and I went on with my uneventful night. I wouldn’t return to that bottle again until the next day.
When I woke up Christmas Day, I contemplated all the things I could possibly do with other people before deciding I’d rather be in my shell. I went to that bottle and picked it up again, but I was interrupted by another message. This one was an invitation to join a family from the church for dinner. Strangely for me at the time, I felt compelled to accept the offer. With a sigh of exhaustion I asked aloud “You really don’t want me to do this, do you?”. I ended up shelving that bottle again that night and instead went to have dinner.
They were so gracious to me. So gracious, I was internally bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond to strangers inviting me into their home and treating me like family. I did not understand this kind of embrace. There I was coping with what felt like a life long war with acceptance issues while I was sharing a meal with them and celebrating the birth of Christ.
My plan failed. I wanted to be a ghost, but how could I after experiencing that? It took Midtown only two weeks to penetrate my heart. The love there enticed me to stay, so I did. Even more shocking to me, this kind of affection was not limited to just that family. Many times over, I was invited to be a part of fellowship people were having in their homes for Christ’s name sake. I was welcomed to do so much with so many that I never really had the chance to take it all on. Slowly, but surely, I was beginning to understand why this church had such a different air about it.
“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. – John 13:35
It would take some time for me to set my pride aside enough to accept that this truth was being revealed to me right before my eyes. In my habit of returning to my isolation, I got myself into a lot of trouble. I caused much grief to people that care for me and would have been there if I allowed them. My selfishness could have ruined my life, or worse yet, the lives of some innocent strangers. It all happened because I refused to be truly seen.
The first chance I got to share my experience with Corey, I did. He preached about walking in the light that Sunday. It was fitting that I confessed my sin to anyone that would hear me that day. In turn, some secret sins were confessed to me. It was then that I was truly a part of the body. I was seen and I was allowed to see some unpleasant sides of people that I was growing to love more and more. We confided in one another and trusted one another. It was intimacy I never thought possible, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I had to continue to push myself. I had to serve this church.
It was then I was given the opportunity to run the soundboard, which was a huge blessing for me. It was behind that board that my love for music, my desire to serve, and being a witness to the love that’s at Midtown all came together. Sometimes, I would find myself still sitting behind that board an hour after the services were over just watching people. I would watch people I don’t even know show their affections for their friends and family, I would marvel at it. It made me feel so blessed to be a part of the church.
There’s no way I could end this without saying just how much fun it was to entertain the congregation. I would play some songs just to see how people would react (which thankfully was positively that vast majority of the time). From Johnny Cash reading the gospel to John Petrucci shredding it up in a song about faith, I kept things pretty unpredictable and diverse. I made it a point to choose songs that would tie into the day’s sermon if I was quick witted enough to figure something out too.
There were lots of tedious little things going through my mind that influenced what was being played.. nevertheless, what kept me motivated to keep getting better were those special reactions I would get sometimes. Some people would sing, some would dance, some would come to the board to ask me about the artists I was playing (especially Christafari!). Every weekend was truly a blessing to be part of that atmosphere. It helped me to understand what it means to have something “make your heart glad”. Alas, after being a regular for two and a half years and serving for roughly two of them, my time is coming to a close.
People of Midtown, your for love not only for one another, but the world around you is nothing short of astonishing. I truly believe the hand of God is on you and empowering this love to make a great change to anyone exposed to it. Without God using you in this way, I still would not be able to accept what it is to truly be a part of the body of Christ. That is what I wish to take with me on my walk from here on.
This isn’t goodbye by any means. There’s no such thing as such for us Christians. One way or the other, we’ll have fellowship again. Until then, thank you.