For the first four years of my life as a pastor, pottery was part of my weekly rhythm. I spent every Monday night Glen Echo Park. Like the best of habits, it gave me balance, creativity, and dependable joy. Two years ago, when I bought a fixer-upper house, got a new job, and met my husband, something needed to give. I stopped doing pottery and turned my energy toward the multitude of other projects demanding my attention.
I went back because I missed it. I missed it the way a dancer misses the barre or a church-goer misses the liturgy. Even when I didn't produce anything, the weekly practice of wedging and centering and throwing and rewedging the clay was like a re-set for my whole life. It made all the rest more calm and doable.
I'd been missing it for a while, but when I got to browsing the pottery studio website every other day, I knew it was time. By some fluke, there was actually a Wednesday night class that fit my schedule. I paid my money and signed up.
I spent the week before my return not totally sure I'd actually go. If I hadn't had money on the line, I'd probably found a way out because I was nervous about my return.
Would anyone remember me? Would my hands know what to do? Should I wear my pottery apron or would that make me seem like an expert and invite judgement? Where to sit? (Like seats in church, the wheels in the studio become the squatter's property of the regulars and I didn't want to start out by embarrassing myself by sitting in someone else's place. I showed up intentionally late so I wouldn't make that mistake.)
This must be what it's like to come back to church after a long time away. The longing to reconnect with God, self and community compels people to seek it our but there's a big difference between wanting to get back to church and actually arriving, turning off the car, and entering a community of people without knowing how you will be received.
It's helpful for me to remember that each new person who is returning to church after an absence carries some of that internal nervousness. What to wear? Who will greet you? Will you remember what to do? Will you sit in someone else's seat?
Will this work?
I hope that anyone who decides to go back to church receives the same kind of welcome I got. A few people mildly recognized me, though most were new (no surprise - communities change). The instructor - though he never taught me - remembered me vaguely from the Monday night class. He made sure I knew the new rules and took time to get me situated and explain procedures. One by one, people introduced themselves without fanfare and we all settled into our projects quickly. I felt comfortable fast. When my former teacher walked in, he gave a big smile and hug and said:
"It's so so good to see you. You're still alive! I've missed you. Welcome back."