When I was in college, there was a group of Christian women that my friends and I didn’t quite understand.
I wasn’t sure of their denomination; they wore long skirts and baggy t-shirts and no makeup. While they attended campus social events and seemed interested in having fun, they kept to themselves worship-wise and rarely frequented events held by the campus Christian groups. Fairly certain they would condemn me for my pants and my love of Scrabble and video games, I interacted with them as I did most anyone I didn’t know but wanted to be polite to: I waved at them, smiled, and otherwise thought little of it.
One day at the Subway in our student union, I found myself standing in line next to one of those girls. We smiled and made small talk about a professor we shared, and ended up laughing about the dinner-plate size of the chocolate chip cookies. She asked me if I was in the local campus Christian group; I said yes. She told me a little bit about her own Bible study with her friends. We exchanged prayer requests. And suddenly, somehow, a little friendship was born.
After that, the makeup of our local Christian group changed. The girls would sometimes attend our campus events, though they never stayed for the game nights, and we supported them in prayer when they called us to ask for it. We met them for lunch and dinner when we could. The lot of us often attended impromptu prayer sessions where we worked out our shared concerns with God or prayed over particular requests. And one of my most vivid college memories is how, on a night I was walking back to campus with my brand-new boyfriend after a date, that same girl I’d first spoken to in the Subway line gave me a shy thumbs up. Later, catching me alone, she hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You two are going to get married.” (We did!)
Thinking back to that time, and to those girls, sometimes makes me wistful. We were very different from each other: they never gave up skirts, and we never gave up pants. I know we had doctrinal disagreements and differing worship styles. But we had Christ in common, and for all of us, that became enough. We let the other things go. And so it was throughout my college years. Somehow, during that time, all of us – the international Christians from China and Africa, the Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Southern and ten-thousand-other varieties of Baptists, the charismatics, the Episcopalians – we all came together and built strong, enriching, Christlike bonds.
Once, when I was fretting over a new church with which I was unfamiliar, my mom reminded me that “not every Christian needs to think like you or be exactly alike.” She went on to explain that sometimes it was good for believers to be able to meet, disagree about some little things (“rib issues”), and then come together around the big ones (“spine issues”). But I fear we often forget that – or worse, that our modern ways of worships have led us to lives where we are surrounded by believers who pray and worship and think in every aspect just like us. Sometimes now I wish that my current Christian life more resembled my college one in terms of how often I was able to interact with different kinds of believers. As we get older, it seems our Christian life can become more denominationally segregated.
1 Cor. 12:13 reminds us that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” As believers, disparate as we might be in our denominations and our methods, we all belong together to the body of Christ. When you have the chance, permit that wonder to enter into your life, and don’t be afraid to reach out to believers outside your denomination or worship style. We don’t always have to agree and we needn’t convert to each other’s styles or methods, but we can be a meaningful presence in each other’s lives. God did not intend us all to be precisely alike, and the differences between us can be a place of strength and beauty and mutual nourishment if only we allow it.