Finding Belonging in the Pews of a New Church

Out of Place – Katie’s Story

After a quick glance in the mirror to make sure my mask matched my outfit, I realized I had plenty of time to walk. Swoosh. The revolving door spit me out into the concrete jungle and Google maps directed my steps toward a new-to-me church. Moving in the middle of a pandemic made finding a new church home a little more complicated than it had been in the past. 

A few blocks later, the steeple came into view confirming the internet’s instructions. I was relieved, it’s exhausting not to know where you are going all the time. Turning the corner, my heart sank. The church parking lot sat empty, seemingly abandoned. 

I felt pretty much the same way.

I wondered if it was Covid or if I made another mistake. 

The door didn’t budge, even when I pulled as hard as I could. Locked. I walked around looking for another way in. I was ready for something to go right, but felt like I kept choosing the wrong direction. The building was shut tight. I imagined the people across the street laughing at me.  It’s confusing to follow the God of love who sees, yet feel so ignored and forgotten at the same time. 

This particular locked door seemed to confirm that I was supposed to stick with going to the church closer to my apartment. 

Finding the right church community

“Church shopping” was frowned upon in my family. That morning, I was forced to admit that was exactly what I was doing. I was raised to worship as close to my own zip code as possible. My time, talent, and treasure were not supposed to wander based upon how I felt. 

The convenience of worshipping online during quarantine opened the door to visit churches across the country. Peeking inside and hearing a variety of sermons, invited me to imagine worshipping in our new city might be different. 

I entered quarantine worn down by messages intended to divide people into factions of “us” vs. “them”. More often than not, my heart aligned with the out group the sermon spotlighted. I was unsure whether I still belonged in the denomination where I spent my entire life.  

For many, the experience of walking into a church is like melting into a warm hug. The familiar design of the building, the pews, stained glass evoke a visceral reaction. Churches had always been my home away from home. The buildings captured my attention whenever we moved or travelled, a respite for the weary of heart.  When all else was falling apart, the Spirit would draw me to the familiar. Instinctively, my hand would reach for the holy water to trace the sign of the cross. And I would experience the sensation of belonging.

That’s why my feeling of no longer fitting in was so confusing. Knowing what it feels like to be “at home” in a place makes the sensation of homelessness that much more intense. Moving so often, I was used to feeling out of place in most areas of my life. But church had never really been one of those places.

My feeling of “out of place-ness” magnified after our pandemic move. The church closest to our apartment was beautiful, yet so dim. Each time week, it felt like people went out of their way not to make eye contact with me. It was as if they knew about my internal struggles and were averting their eyes to avoid seeing the train wreck.

After being locked out, I scoured the internet for alternatives. Turns out, there was another church within walking distance. 

I set off past unfamiliar, vacant buildings and trash-strewn parking lots keeping my expectations very low. A few wrong turns later, I entered an unlocked gate. The heavy door moved on my first tug. I entered a bright, all-white vestibule with a lone piece of art depicting Jesus’ final sufferings. 

The interior of the church was refreshingly simple. People stood chatting with each other as they waited for the service to begin. They all looked like they were happy to be together. I chose a seat on the fringes, certain no one noticed I had arrived. 

Then it happened. Anne, the self-appointed welcome committee, left her conversation to greet me. Introducing herself, she caught my eye and asked my name. 

As the service started, the familiarity of the words we spoke in unison welcomed me home. The sermon encouraged me to open my mind and my heart to all people, not only the ones who agreed with me. After the final song, I wasn’t ready to leave.

In the middle of a moment, we can’t always make sense of what is happening. What appear to be losses, loneliness, and longing may be the things making us aware of God’s voice telling us to keep going. He is calling each of us to something more. Harnessing our uncomfortable sensations and allowing them to move us to action is how we can find our place.


If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

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Meet Katie Kibbe

Katie is a writer, coach, and speaker. She and her husband recently moved to Cleveland, Ohio where they are learning to love the cold weather. Their two young adult children are both enjoying school in North Carolina. Katie left her law practice long ago to stay home with her children. After running a few marathons, chairing tons of committees, and driving endless loops of carpools, Katie continues to wear multiple hats. She writes faith-based discussion guides for small groups, including Abide and Arise (both available on Amazon). She also helps other writers coaching them to create content that connects. She can find out more about Katie’s work on Instagram and www.KatieKibbe.com

*Feature Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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