I am lucky enough to be a part of the musicians at West Ridge. Not only do I get to sing and play with some incredible musicians, I get to stand up on stage and look out at the audience. Most of you sit in the same seats every Sunday and it’s fun to see you out there. But there are some of you that are a lot like me when I first came to West Ridge about 5 years ago: You come in, wearing your blinders, head straight to your seat, act like you’re really interested in the weekly program so as to avoid any interaction with those around you, and then you sit there, uncomfortably, wondering if you should be there or dash out and pretend this whole trying-out-a-church thing didn’t happen.
I did that for a while. A long while, until my friend told me, “I told Michael about you. He’s waiting for you to introduce yourself.” WHAT?! Heck no. It took me about a week to gather up the courage because A) the musicians on stage were SO GOOD that they intimidated me and B) I didn’t consider myself the type of person to just walk up to a stranger and say hello. But boy am I glad I did. It changed my life. People started coming up to me, telling me how much they enjoyed my singing. I can’t tell you how much that means to me – if you’ve ever approached me, you can see me grinning from ear-to-ear when we talk.
Now, flash forward to today and I’m one of those walk-up-to-people people…and I love it. Here’s my typical Sunday morning experience:
I pull into the West Ridge parking lot and am greeted by Laura, directing traffic in the parking lot. I enter the building and Katie greets me at the front door, welcoming me in like I’m coming home. I walk through the lobby, past the front counter and wave to Margie, who’s there to help with questions. I walk by Wally, who either gives me a high five or hugs me, and head straight to the café for a cup of coffee. Janet or Shelby are there to say hello while I fill up. Then I head to the main entrance to the auditorium and am greeted by Anthony who gives me a program. Anthony, for those who don’t know it, gives the world’s best hugs. The reassuring hug to let you know you’re home, it’s time to let your guard down and just relax and clear your mind.
Inside the auditorium, the technical team is hanging out in the back, making sure the service looks and sounds good, while the band is playing some ridiculously good song, letting everyone know the service is about to start. I read the program and check out the cash situation, as it always amazes me how generous the people of West Ridge are…and how well the financial team can predict the weekly donations will be.
Then Danielle or Greg heads up on stage and welcomes everyone in the room. We all turn around and shake hands and hug. But it’s not the hand-shaking that I’m used to at the churches I attended while growing up. It’s, again, the “I’m so glad to see you” kind of hand-shaking: Genuine and true. Then the music starts up again and I join in singing the worship songs, while my stress level decreases. After all this, Darren or Greg hop up on stage – often wearing jeans (Jeans! No formal attire? What?! Where am I?) and give such down-to-earth messages: Real messages – not reading a story that’s probably been emailed a million times or written in a Dear Abby column. I love it when they tell stories from the bible that not only include their own thoughts about the passage, but also what was going on during those times…giving us the back story. If my 8th grade self would have known how much I love the historical info of biblical times, she wouldn’t believe it.
Now, I’ll tell you that I’ve still got that old self in me – the one that wants to avoid interaction at times. That person comes out at the end of the service. While everybody lingers in the lobby, I pass the Rauchser’s, the Burhite’s and everyone else and head straight out. I nod or wave to Darren at the front door and make a beeline for my car. I’m not perfect – I’m making progress.
West Ridge is my second home. I love how easy it is to lay all my burdens down and fill up on the amazing energy, love and grace that fills that building…and how it spills out amongst all the people and then out into the community. I am grateful to be a part of it.