Church Hurts: Chapter 3 – “New Membership Orientation”

Chapter 3 – Church Orientation

Sarah is jolted from her heavy sleep with the jarring blasts from her alarm clock. The glowing red 11:10 am makes her roll her eyes. She extends her right arm to slam her palm on the snooze button as her face collapses back onto her pillow. Ten minutes later, with eyes still closed, her fingers crawl over the nightstand to search for the snooze button again. She repeats the process again ten minutes later.

Sarah looks up at the alarm clock and turns it off this time. Those extra 30 minutes gave her just what she needed to peel herself off of her cushy bed onto her feet. She reaches for her glasses and slips her feet into her slippers.

She rubs her twists as she trudges to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. Her hair was flat on one side as usual after a long night of sleeping on her right side. She had the raccoon look that accompanies sleeping in one’s eye-liner and mascara. She finishes her morning routine and heads out the door to the New Membership Orientation. She really had enjoyed the church service and knew she needed to join a church in order to stay out of trouble. She wouldn’t stay accountable otherwise. Her roommate was encouraging her to stay in sin, so hopefully this church, and in particular this cute youth pastor, could help her spirituality. She couldn’t help but smile a little when she thought about running into Dave again. She also wondered if Paul would be there too. She had been thinking about them two all week at work. Which of the two, if either, would God hook her up with? She said a quick prayer over the day hoping that God would move things in her favor.

When she pulls up onto the parking lot, she sees only seven cars there. The new Land Rover must have been Dave’s. She figured he must have come from money since his grandfather had enough clout to have James Tapp throw a half-priced concert in Memphis. Not to mention he appeared to wear expensive clothes from Lacoste and J. Crew. She pulled her black sedan three parking spaces down from his. Something about parking right beside his jeep made her feel a little insecure.

She looked through the glass double-doors when she saw they were locked. It was dark inside. Then she figured the new membership class must be in the smaller trailer building nearby. No need to open the entire sanctuary for a meeting between less than a dozen people.

She walked crossed the parking lot and went up the stairs to the trailer. The door was slightly ajar and she could hear voices within. She tip-toed in self-consciously even though she was only five minutes late. Apparently, this church didn’t get the memo about CP (colored people) time. The chairs were around a rectangular table with sets of paper in front of each chair. The instructor was Paul. Apparently, he was the Outreach Minister. He looked Sarah in the eye, smiled at her, and told her to have a seat. The only available seat was right beside him. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here. Sarah, right?” He pulled her chair out for her. As she looped her jacket and purse on the back of her chair, she caught a whiff of his faint aftershave. Or maybe it was deodorant. All she knew was that it smelled good. “Yeah, I decided to go ahead and join. I had a week to pray over it,” Sarah replied. The other people at the table greeted her with smiles and waves.

Paul makes everyone reintroduce themselves for her sake and then asks her to introduce herself. The lady to her left slides her a sign-in sheet and a pen to sign in with her name, phone number, and email address. Paul then began to go over the New Membership Orientation PowerPoint print-out. An hour later, the class was concluded with each new member signing their name on their membership card and selecting which ministries they thought they might like to participate in. Because Sarah was still in her twenties, she was automatically expected to sign up for the Young Adult ministry which interested her more-so because she knew Dave was over it rather than because she would get to meet other young people her age. She also was interested in outreach which was what she was in charge of at her last church. Something about ministering to the least, the most hurting, the lost appealed to Sarah. She had helped her last church to build quite a successful outreach ministry. They made weekly appearances at the downtown homeless shelters to minister spiritually – and nutritionally – to the men and women there. They also had been working on plans to visit the teens in juvy before Sarah had to leave the church. After she had left there, she had not done anything with a church. Seemed to her like getting involved in church always resulted in hurts. While she loved people, she wasn’t interested in making new friends at church. Her and Denise had followed the motto – NNF no new friends. From elementary school up until college, they had kept the same group of friends and weren’t taking auditions for more.

Before Sarah could make her typical bolt to the door to avoid meeting the other new members, she heard Paul call her name. Her heart skipped a little. Paul looked at her with his green eyes and engaged her in conversation. “So I see you signed up for outreach. That means you’ll be working real closely with me.” “I guess so,” Sarah said. She tried unsuccessfully to stifle a smile. Something about the way he said “with me”, was charming. Paul continued, “So what experience do you have with outreach?” Sarah replied by telling him how she had been the outreach coordinator at her past church. Paul raised his eyebrows apparently impressed. “Oh that’s great! That’s just what we need. I’ve been praying for someone to help me with this. I’ve been trying to begin some new ventures. I’ve even been seeking God about doing a short-term missionary trip later this year.” Sarah smiled within herself at the prospect of going on an overseas trip with this green-eyed cutie. Her straying thoughts were put on pause when she heard the creaking of the trailer door behind her. It was Dave. Her heart skipped another beat.

He greeted all of the new members and walked over to Paul to ask for a key. When Dave recognized Sarah standing there, he gave her a side hug keeping his left arm draped over her small shoulders afterwards. Sarah blushed a little. She noticed an awkward shuffling of Paul’s feet which made her equally nervous. She liked Dave’s arm around her shoulders, but she disliked how it seemed to be making Paul feel. Paul pulled his keys out of his back pocket and singled out a key which he handed to Dave.

Dave, trying to buy more time with Sarah, turned towards Sarah and asks her if she’s seen the entire church. She tells him she has not, but that she has noticed the renovations. He tells her that they were due to the church growth they had been experiencing over the past few years. Their choir had grown, and they had began streaming live on the internet which would explain the choir steps, the camera, and perhaps also the cosmetic addition of the pillars in the pulpit. He invites her to come along for a quick tour to see the rest of the building. She obliges but not before shaking Paul’s and telling him bye. He tells her he’ll contact her about doing some outreach planning sometime next week. He turns away to say farewell to the other new members.

Dave opens the door to the trailer for Sarah and then leads Sarah to the main church building through a side door that he unlocks. She could hear the pianist practicing perhaps for church service tomorrow. Dave gives her a quick walk-through of the church. He stops by a dozen doors or so to let her know where different classes are conducted and where the different offices are. She excused herself to the restroom before he could conclude his tour. He told her that while she was in there, he would go get what he needed so that he could return Paul’s keys.

She closes the door and after a few seconds flushes the toilet and then turns on the faucet. She didn’t really have to use the restroom, she just needed a place to freshen up. For some reason, Dave made her anxious. She reapplies her deodorant and lip chap. She was annoyed to see that a few locks of her hair were sticking straight up and had probably been sticking up even in front of Paul. Something about people made them think it was okay not to tell women with natural hair when their hair was sticking up. Natural hair did not have to mean messy hair. She reaches into her purse to get a bobby pin to control the unruly hair. She spritzes herself with a few pumps of her Curve Crush perfume before she turns off the faucet to feign washing her hands after feigning using the toilet just in case he was listening outside.

She swung open the door anxious to get back to the tour – back to Dave. Then she halted. She hears a familiar voice. She peeks slowly out of the door down the hall to the left and sees that the door Dave pointed out to her that was labeled “Associate Pastor/Treasurer” is now slightly cracked open. Inside, she can see a sliver of “Miss Louboutin” who she remembered seeing in the restroom at the concert. What was she doing here? Was she a member here also? Louboutin stepped out of view and then Sarah saw a sliver of the man who had raised the offering. His deep voice reverberated down the hall. Sarah knew she couldn’t stay in the restroom forever; she didn’t want Dave to think she was doing Number Two. But she also didn’t want to have to face the girl that Denise had Febreezed just a week ago. She would no doubt remember how Denise and her had laughed at her and her friends on their way out of the restroom. However, Sarah was not as brave without her roomie by her side.

Sarah braves up and leaves the restroom. She sees Dave heading towards her from her right and she sees Louboutin leaving the Associate Pastor’s office on her left. They both reach her just outside the restroom doors at the same time. Louboutin quickly looks Sarah up and down just as Dave puts his hand on Sarah’s left shoulder. Dave says, “Hey, Terita! What are you doing here?” “Oh, just running some errands.” Dave then introduces Terita to Sarah to which Terita shakes her head, furrows her eyebrows, and replies, “What is it with you and me and church bathrooms?” Dave has a puzzled look on his face. Terita puts her hand on Sarah’s left arm, laughs, and says, “Girl, I’m just kidding. So what are y’all doing lurking in the halls in the dark?” Dave responds, “I was just giving her a tour of the church. She just joined our church. I want her to feel at home here.” “Is that so,” Terita inquires. “Hey, did you get my text this morning?” “Yeah, I got it. I haven’t had a chance to reply yet,” Dave answered. “Well you got time to show Sally here around the church,” Terita teased, intentionally calling Sarah the wrong name. “It’s Sarah. S-A-R-A-H,” Sarah corrected with a smirk. Dave, noticing the tension, ends the conversation abruptly and tells Terita he’ll reply sometime later today.

Dave tells Sarah there are two more offices she has to visit before she can leave. He takes her by the associate pastor’s office. He knocks lightly on the door until he hears, “Come on in.” Sarah and Dave enter. Sarah immediately notices the ornate, large oak furniture. He had two 17th century style chairs facing the front of his desk. He was reclined in his cushy office chair with an open MacBook laptop illuminating his face. He had plush carpet that her feet sank into as she stepped onto it. After typing a few more keys, he closes the Mac, removes his eyeglasses, and leaves from behind his desk to approach them. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Her name is Sarah. She just joined. I was just giving her a tour of the place.”

Sarah extends her hand for his. He reaches out and gives her a firm handshake. His hands were strong, but his skin felt soft and a little damp. He squeezed her hand tightly so much so that she could feel his large gold rings pressing up against her tiny bones. It hurt just a little. He held her gaze steadily as he flashed his white veneers. He had obviously processed his hair, and Sarah was impressed that even at his age, he had his full hairline. He seemed the type to get hair plugs had his hair thinned. His expensive, overpowering cologne flooded Sarah’s nostrils. He wore a double-breasted suit and alligator shoes. It was obvious that this man worked out.

“Hey, pretty lady. We’re glad to have you as part of the Deliverance family. You look so familiar. Which high school do you attend?” “Actually, I’m 27, sir,” Sarah corrected him. “Well, it’s a blessing to look so young. Your size probably makes you look younger too. Most women in the late twenties start to swell if you know what I mean.” He chuckles. Sarah laughs nervously. Dave looks off to his left. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, pretty lady. I must get back to work. A pastor’s work is never done. I’m working out this budget. I’ll see you around.”

Dave opens the door behind them to escort Sarah out. Just before she leaves, she glances behind her. She had only looked to the left side of the office, but she didn’t have a chance to see the right side. In the back corner, she sees what looks like a twin-sized bed. Dave notices her looking. “I see you eyeing that bed. It’s strange, huh? Pastor Judd works so late at church sometimes that he just spends the night in his office. He lives across town and decided it would be more convenient to just stay here at times.”

Sarah dismisses it as Dave leads her into his office. His desk is strewn with YPWW booklets, teen study bibles, and worksheets. He has an open closet of blazers and dress shirts against the back wall. She notices a copy of James’ Tapp and Lecrae’s CDs on his desk.

“This is the end of the tour, ma’am. Please excuse my office. I’ve just been so busy I haven’t had time to straighten up. I’m not the neatest person. I guess being raised up with a nanny will do that to you. But yep, this is my office for now.” “For now?” Sarah asks for elaboration. “Yeah, my mom says it’s time for me to upgrade. She says God has greater for me.” “What does she have in mind?” “Well, my grandfather – her father – founded this church. When my parents married, my grandfather gave the church to my dad. But when they divorced, my mom and granddad decided the church had began a new era and that it needed a fresh face as pastor. They say my dad’s time is nearing an end. They said the word for this year is, “Out With the Old, In With the New”. I don’t know how I feel about that. I agree that greater is coming, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” “Wow. That is a lot of pressure. Paul said this is a thousand-member church. I know I couldn’t pastor that many people at my age,” Sarah said. “I mean, I’ve practically been groomed for birth to take over at some point, so I’m not scared. It’s just that it feels weird to replace my dad,” Dave “Yeah, I can see how that would feel weird,” Sarah sympathized.

Dave reclines in his chair and intertwines his fingers, “So enough about me, tell me about yourself. You seem so reserved. I want to know a little about you,” Dave said. “Well, what do you want to know? There’s a lot about me. I don’t know where to begin. That’s something you just have to find out over time. I’m a woman with many secrets,” Sarah teases. Dave smiles. He stands up, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to stick around to find out. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He puts his hand on the small of her back walking her towards the hall which sent a chill through her body. He had to have known that would happen. Sarah tried to keep her composure.

As they headed out into the hallway to walk to Sarah’s car, Sarah peers to her right. She sees the choir director quietly slip into the associate pastor’s office and close the door. She furrows her eyebrows in confusion when she hears what sounds like the click of a door lock.

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