Upon first seeing it, I would be blown away by its majesty—comparable to Westminster, but for common people like myself. An elderly person would be standing outside, ready to shake my hand and welcome me in. I’d make my way through a sea of people into the sanctuary where the venue would steal my breath again. Stained glass, balconies, an enormous pipe organ, an equally enormous choir, pews—not for comfort, but for history and depth.
I’d find my bulletin at my seat, filled with hymn numbers and liturgy. The congregation would sing and recite various passages, and then the pastor would take the podium. And for the first time in my life, I wouldn’t feel anxious, or sick, or depressed, or unloved, because I would know that he or she believed that God loved me, no matter who I loved. The pastor would go on to give a sermon that would inspire everyone in the congregation to love God and one another much better than before. We’d sing and pray again, and then be dismissed to the lobby for bottomless coffee and bagels with cream cheese.
That was the dream; the déjà vu was Old South Church. I’m not entirely sure how God and Google led us together, considering how I probably didn’t type “old” or “south” into my favorite search engine to find a new place of worship, and I certainly didn’t type them both together. Nevertheless, I found Old South Church, and it was everything I thought I wanted. It was protestant; it was progressive; it was perfect. It even had all of the traditional elements of a church service that I have grown to love.
Unfortunately for a writer, a dream is not a story. With dreams, when you arrive at the climax, that’s all you’re given. You wake yourself up, and reality is your only resolution. My awakening was as abrupt and discontenting as all others.
The last moment of the dream: walking up four floors of stairs to where the young adults of the church were scheduled to meet for their first time of the year.
The first moment of reality: walking into the room, empty for a while, but after thirty minutes, filled with five people ready and eager to play A Game for Good Christians: a Cards Against Humanity spinoff for Biblical connoisseurs.
To be honest, it was probably a combination of feeling awkward, conceited, and disappointed that woke me. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I had wakened until a few months after: when I realized that I hadn’t been to church.
As I started analyzing my behavior, I escaped reality once again in a flashback to my adolescence (a flashback being a close cousin to a dream, but rooted in experiences rather than ideas). I remembered feeling a great depression as a freshman at a new school, having lost hope in my personal appeal, in making friends, and in hopes of being happy. I remembered my mom forcing me to participate in several service opportunities and mission trips through my church. I remember as a young high schooler crying as she left. And then I remember waking up, into a world much better than a dream, filled with the beginnings of new love for myself, for others, and for God. In high school, the church had changed my life—not because of the grandiosity of the building, not because of the theological legitimacy of the worship, and not even because of the socially liberal stance of the church. It was the community, and it was the love.
Maybe someday I’ll have that amazing revelation again: the one where I wake up from my daydreams into a reality that’s better than I could have imagined, perhaps one that has the best of both my past and present dreams. Or, maybe it’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of the community, to transform the reality that leaves us discontent into the dream churches that we’ve been searching for. Whatever the case, the dreams will not stop. They creep into our minds, regardless of consciousness, whispering of other worlds that we might find ourselves better suited to.
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.