I was slightly worried when I first attended the church service here at San Timoteo with a total of six other individuals, on a good day. I was accustomed to large services with rows and rows of seats, where I could slip in late into one of the back rows without being noticed, and if I was feeling unsociable could quickly slip out right after service without a word to anyone. I liked my voice being lost in the chorus of loud instruments and more than a hundred other voices when songs were sung and prayers said aloud. I liked choosing my level of commitment and participation in the church. I liked not truly being needed. Sure, the church appreciated my time, but let’s be honest, if I had not participated in what I did, someone else would have in my place. This is not criticizing my past churches, but I doubt I am truly missed. I doubt anyone is saying, “Wow, I really miss Kristyn Zollos.” And that’s good, I’m okay with that. That’s part of attending a large church. You are one of many.
However, I’ve come to see a lot of beauty in a small church. Recently I decided to spend my bus ride home from the comedor writing down the reasons I love San Timoteo and the feeling of a small church community. I’ve decided to share them with you below…
1.) I am not one of many. I am one of few and my presence matters greatly to the others in the community. In return, the presence of all the others in the community matters greatly to me. There is one wonderful older man in the church who just has this big personality. He has made it his job to close the service with the Spanish form of, “Go in peace,” and he always does it with the biggest smile on his face. After service, he loves sharing pictures and reciting poems for everyone in attendance. When he didn’t show up a few weeks in row I found myself feeling like a part of Sunday community was greatly missing and feeling worried that something was wrong. Of course, others had checked in on him, knowing the cause of his absence, and we prayed for him all the while he was away. At San Timoteo, no one is lost in the crowd, no absence goes unnoticed, no voice is unheard.
2.) Everyone is involved. When we meet after church we discuss church events and plans for the future. Everyone is invited, everyone has a say, everyone is listened to. Generally, if an individual attends the church, they are involved in the church past solely showing up the hours of Sunday service. We are currently working on an event for this next month and we have a paper posted on the church door with everyone’s name from both the house and the church and the role they will play, whether that be cooking, serving food, decorating, or cleaning up the next day. Everyone’s name is on that door. We truly need the entire community to give a hand to make things successful and I think that it’s beautiful that the skills of each individual are needed and appreciated in that way.
3.) Circle’s work. During service we sit in a circle of benches. During prayer we stand, holding hands with one another in a circle. After service we sit in a circle in the church office, drinking mate and discussing the church, events, and general life. In my previous churches, forming a circle within the church is pretty much impossible. But when I worship at San Timoteo, I am not just worshipping with those sitting beside me and those leading the worship, I am worshipping with every individual in the room. After service when we have time to chat and plan for the future, I am chatting and planning with everyone in the congregation. I hear the words every individual speaks and sings and they all hear mine.
4.) We truly pray together and for one another. As I mentioned, at San Timoteo we pray in a circle, joining hands with one another. Every individual has the opportunity to pray aloud. It’s beautiful to hear both the joys and thanksgivings, as well the concerns of the others in the community. We are truly able to prayerfully support what is going on in the hearts of one another. At my church back home, the best they can do is take time every church service to pray for about 10 families every week. I’m not criticizing this, in fact I think it’s great they still try to pray for specific families and it’s the best they can do as a church of that size. But here at San Timoteo, every week I get to pray for and with each individual of my church community and that is a very beautiful opportunity.
5.) I personally know the pastor and the pastor personally knows me. Yes, I’ve known the pastors at my other churches and they have all been incredible. However, when they have so many people within their congregations it’s an impossible job for them to keep up on what’s going on in every individual’s life. And knowing they have such a large “flock” to care for, I never feel completely comfortable taking up more of their time to ask questions and bring up things I need guidance on, so I turn to others instead. While the vicar here and other pastors of the IELU church in Argentina still work extremely hard and are still extremely busy, I find that the smallness of the church community has allowed me to get to know the vicar and several other pastors of IELU on a comfortable, friendship level. I think that it also might be part of a culture that focuses less on time and more on relationships. We can sit for several hours after service in our small group talking with the pastor or vicar, asking questions, making plans for the church and sharing what is going on in one another’s lives.
6.) No one is missed. I don’t mean this in the, “He’s not here, but we don’t miss him,” kind of way. I mean that when someone walks in the door, they are noticed. It’s impossible slip in and out without acknowledging anyone. It’s impossible to be missed, to be lost in the crowd. When someone is new, it is noted immediately and they are welcomed. They are invited to join discussion after service, Bible study on the weekend and youth group on Fridays if they are the right age. They will probably meet every individual in attendance and find it impossible to make a quick escape. In fact it’s probably overwhelming all the greetings, but I think the greatest type of overwhelming is an overwhelming sense of welcome, don’t you?
7.) I feel obligated. That’s sounds like a bad thing, doesn’t it? Yeah, I would initially think so too. However, I find that’s its not. I can’t just miss service or meetings because I’m tired, don’t feel like it, or have something better to do. If I do, people will notice and will ask where I am. What’s my excuse? “Kristyn thought it was a nice day and decided she would go to the park instead.” Yeah, I can’t do that and I don’t want to do that. The problem is that sometimes I think I want to do that, but once the sense of obligation kicks in and I’m sitting in the church or church office, I am so glad I am there and with the others in the community. I am grateful for feeling like I have to be there because if I didn’t I would miss out on a lot of good stuff, as I am sure I have at my churches in the past. Sometimes I just need a little jolt of obligation to get me going, ya know?
I don’t think it’s impossible for a large church to achieve this small church feel by creating opportunities for smaller communities to be created. In fact, my previous church at Purdue, Campus House, did an exceptional job at this through church housing, and small, weekly bible study groups. However, I feel as if it’s impossible for a larger church to do all of the above despite their efforts. I also feel that there are many things that larger churches accomplish that smaller churches, like San Timoteo, are unable to. That’s life and reality and the way things have to be. I’ve just enjoyed seeing the beauty in my current reality within my small and loving community at San Timoteo.
Worshipping in a circle. This day was a church event so there was a very large turnout. Sadly, I can't exactly remember what we were celebrating this particular day.
Worshipping outside on a beautiful Sunday. Even Mora (our dog) joins us sometimes:)
The community on Reformation Day.
The temple of the church. I'm not even sure if we say temple in english, but it's referred to as the "templo" in spanish so that's the only word for this space my mind can think of.