After having walked away from the Christian Science Sunday School at the age of 12, I came back in my mid-twenties. I felt a great need for more structure in my thoughts, and my intuition told me that I would find what I was seeking in the Christian Science church.
Though I knew it was right to go back to church, it was not easy. I felt very different from the other members of the congregation. For one thing—I dressed differently. I wore a worn-out pair of sneakers that I had painted red. They were my favorite shoes. They were messy, bright, and I felt comfortable in them. I loved to dress in ways that set me apart and made me feel special. When I looked around in church, I didn’t understand how I was supposed to fit in. In fact, I was so busy wondering if I fit in to ever consider how I might be able to serve.
One Sunday, after the service, the head usher asked if I would be interested in ushering. I was stunned. I considered all the male ushers I had seen. They wore suits and ties; they looked and acted entirely different from me. They were the way an usher should be. Right? By comparison, I was messy and informal—a kid!
But, at the same time, I had a very serious love of God, and a great desire to grow spiritually. I had an unwritten rule in my thought: “If you are given an opportunity, you take it.” So, I told the head usher that I would be there the next week to usher.
He asked with a smile, “Where are your red shoes?” My eyes brimmed with tears of joy and relief.
That next Sunday I set aside my normal clothes, and put on a suit and tie. Instead of my favorite red sneakers, I put on some shiny brown shoes. I didn’t feel like myself, but I thought this was the role I was being asked to play. When I arrived at the ushers meeting I was sure that I looked out of place trying to usher, but I was there to try my best.
It’s hard to explain how uncomfortable it was for me; it was so far outside of my comfort zone. After the meeting was over, the same head usher came up to me. I expected he was coming to give me some instructions. Instead, he asked with a smile, “Where are your red shoes?” My eyes brimmed with tears of joy and relief.
I began to realize that he hadn’t asked me to be an usher expecting me to change who I was; he had asked me to usher because of who I was. My fears about not belonging in church began to crumble away. The next Sunday I came to the ushers’ meeting dressed in my regular clothes. I served on that committee for a long time, feeling more and more comfortable and useful with each service.
Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to serve and learn in church. I am filled with awe when I think of that head usher, listening for angel messages, and acting on them when they came. When I think of the blessings that have come to me and others because of that simple act, I am deeply humbled.
I have come to see that church is simply not made for conformity. Rather it exists to thrive on diversity. I have come to see that not only does our church need each of us, but it needs us exactly as we are—revealing our skills, insights, and hearts. Church is alive when we honestly, lovingly, and soulfully share who we are!
Alex Cook is a musician and artist. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
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