It is difficult when you are new to someplace to start to reach out and meet new people. It is especially difficult to reach out when you have cancer (and it is obvious).
When I first moved to California, I spend a fair bit of my time trying to make connections with people here. I joined a couple of “meet ups” and I went to church. I was making a real effort to meet new people and make connections. Unfortunately, after diagnosis that stopped. I did meet new people, but mostly they were related to my cancer diagnosis, rather than me (although I have to say I’ve made at least one friend through the cancer process). It has been very difficult to even think about going back to even the things in which I had already been doing, never mind doing something new.
After my first service at the Unitarian Church in San Jose, I decided we would give it a try in the fall when they went back to the regular church schedule. Like many Unitarian Churches, their summer schedule involved special lay led worship services, which are not always easy for new comers. However, shortly after the service I attended in May, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I found myself wishing we had reached out to the congregation sooner, so that we would have had the support that comes with being a member, but also, found myself afraid to go to the congregation, as now I wasn’t just a normal person off the street, I am someone who is coming with a need (or at least a potential need).
To help make the transition, I did ask our minister from Ottawa to make an introduction. That way, when we arrived, we would not be complete strangers to the church. But still, I was very hesitant. I certainly wasn’t willing to go alone to service – it was not optional that my husband join me. Part of me felt the connection to this congregation the first time I attended back in early May, but part of me was afraid to introduce myself to a new community. How do I even begin to say who I am now? How is my headscarf not an elephant in the room? If (when) we need help, how will be able to ask for it, having not first arrived in a position to give?
So today, when we finally were in town on a Sunday (another challenge with reaching out is that we often go sailing or camping on the weekends). We made the leap and went to church. Truthfully, church went well today. The service was good and the people were really welcoming. We happened to attend on a Sunday where they had a special lunch for new people – so we stayed and got to meet a few people and the two ministers in a much smaller group setting. I was struck by how similar the people are to the people at church in Ottawa – they are all Unitarians after all! Although in the small group I did choose to disclose that I had cancer, I didn’t feel like it was something that was a barrier. I could have chosen not to say anything, and people would have just listened to what I had to say (we were sharing a bit about our spiritual pathways). In hindsight, I didn’t actually share that much about my spiritual path because I was so focused on getting the words out of my mouth … “shortly after I moved here, I was diagnosed with breast cancer” … I cannot remember what I said after that, but I quickly finished off my sharing and allowed the conversation to move on to the next person. And that was it. I felt accepted for who I was, and where I was, and no pressure was placed on me (or us). We were encouraged to get involved to the level in which we felt comfortable. Actually, as far as welcoming goes – this congregation did a pretty darn good job.
So, we shall reach out a little further and join the monthly potluck supper group. It is a chance to meet the dynamically different people involved in the congregation in a small group setting – with no pressure to be anything except myself. This reminds me why I’m a Unitarian Universalist … maybe on Friday I’ll reach out to one of the meet up groups that I was a part of before my diagnosis … but I’m not sure I have the strength/courage to do that just yet, we’ll see.