Earlier this summer, I made the trek to Buchanan’s Native Plants in North Houston for some herb plants. The herbs were tucked in the back corner with the fruit trees, which fascinated me. I’ve never lived in a place where we could have grown citrus fruit before, and so I was browsing through the meyer lemons and the key limes. An older, wizened lady who worked there approached me, and I asked her a few questions. She looked a little bit like the old goat lady in Cold Mountain. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
The lady at Buchanan’s seemed to genuinely love the plants under her care, maybe to the point that she doesn’t actually *know* that she looks like the goat lady, and I respect that. We started talking about plants, and Texas, and growing seasons, and I learned a lot. One thing that really stuck with me was that with the fruit trees especially, you’re not supposed to let them grow fruit during their first year in a new location. They need to focus on growing their root systems, so if you see a flower, you’re supposed to pluck it off. By doing this, you’re actually helping the tree produce more fruit in later years. They need an entire year to develop their root system.
I was mulling this over in the car on the way home, with the smell of fresh thyme wafting up to the driver’s seat from the back of the car. I think people need some time to develop their root systems, too. Houston feels so much like home to us already that it’s sometimes hard to remember that we just got here. Every week holds a different errand or task that takes us out of our comfort zone. We are learning names and places and helping our children adjust to new schools and friends. It’s work, and even though it may sometimes look like we’re not producing a lot of fruit as a family, we’re digging in our roots.
This past Sunday was Rally Day at Palmer, where different ministries and committees educate Palmer’s members about what they do, and how newcomers can participate. I had my elevator speech prepared about our root-making activities, in case I was asked to sign up for something. It’s not that I’m completely opposed to signing up for anything. I’m simply overwhelmed. Most of the time, I’m overwhelmed in a really good way. But this root-growing business is exhausting and can be all-consuming.
In the church where I grew up, rally day wasn’t a thing. I think my mom was in charge of Sunday School, and she roped whatever half-dozen kids between the ages of 5 and 12 that attended on any given Sunday into one of the back rooms. I think there was a felt board. The same people were junior and senior warden for my entire childhood, and the solitary fundraiser was a sandwich stand at the cranberry festival. Vestry meetings lasted for about 15 minutes, I think.
Back to present (rally) day. I’m ever mindful of how my participation might affect a group. I want to be helpful, but I’m also not an unofficial message-taker for my husband. Things get weird when I get asked to “put a bug” in Neil’s ear about something, especially now that we’ve experienced Texas-sized bugs firsthand. I don’t want to disrupt the vibe if it means that people feel like they can’t be themselves around me. It takes me a while to decide how we’ll fit into the big picture, and the big picture can feel a bit overwhelming. In the past, finding my way has meant starting something completely new that has never been done before (so I don’t run the risk of disappointing everyone when It’s Not As Great As Last Year), or volunteering outside of the church walls for another related organization. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, of course, but for now it feels right to show up and be present.
So, in order to preserve my own sanity and family harmony, it’s better for me to wait a little while, grow those roots, help the family adjust to a new community, and make decisions about our participation deliberately and sometimes slowly. I’m not complaining. I’m just looking at our family health in the long haul.
As it turns out, I never gave my root speech on Sunday. Rally day was a little nuts, and after some bathroom trauma with the kids, we ended up going back into church to retrieve my purse and the kids’ things, and things got a little nuts after that. We were inside, then outside, then inside again, and one kid wanted chips while the other one wanted to go home. We finally made it home to let the dogs out about an hour and a half after church let out. What’s that? You want another Birdie photo? OK.
But in the course of that crazy morning, I think I may have discerned another calling for myself, which goes hand-in-hand with my root-growing experience. I will head up the Ministry of Silly Questions.
Anyone who had a dorky enough adolescence will remember Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks routine. I’m heading up my very own Silly Questions Committee. I don’t know if this is true in all large, long-standing organizations, but it can be true of churches: there’s some “insider language” that can be confusing to newcomers. “We’ll meet in the Nave during the season of Pentecost, but during the change ringing the vestry will meet in the undercroft.” “It’s TEC weekend, so there won’t be a communion anthem, but we’re keeping the creed and the confession.” “The meeting will be in the Saints and Sinners Memorial Chapel, which is in the south of the building behind the small kitchen – the old one, you know, where we used to have the big kitchen.” “Someone needs to tell the Thurifer that we’re in Ordinary Time again, but that the suffragan will be here next week. Not the coadjuter – she’s on sabbatical.”
Huh? It’s like a meeting of the Skulls, but more confusing. Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it. And so, when there might be an opportunity to translate it for someone who is new (and probably confused, and maybe self-conscious), we can make the whole experience more accessible. You can find approximately one meeeellion blog articles about “being the church” and “spiritual but not religious” and “why millennials aren’t going to your church and what you need to do about it yesterday because you’re doing it wrong,” but I think what every church needs is someone to ask the questions that nobody else will ask.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
“What time do I need to be there?”
“Where should I park?”
“Which Sunday School class is my 3-year-old in? Does he need to be potty trained?”
“Do I have to sign up for the whole year, or can he try it out for a week or two first?”
“Can I find it on the website?”
“Can I meet with you later this week, or maybe email you? I have a lot of questions.”
“I don’t drink/have Celiac/can’t walk to the altar rail, but I want to receive Communion.”
The way I figure it, I’m not afraid to embarrass myself over a couple of silly questions, especially if it means that someone else doesn’t have to embarrass themselves by asking it. Who’s with me? What’s the silliest question you’ve ever asked? Did you live to tell the tale?