About 7 years ago, I began attending a megachurch in Dallas. I started coming because the church I grew up in only offered activities for single adults once a month. I had just returned from living overseas, I had few friends in Dallas, and I knew that I needed more than one activity a month to meet new people.
So I joined a singles group of about a thousand people.
I was warned before I started coming that it would take about a year to feel like I belonged. Sure enough, a year later, I could arrive at church and expect to find people I knew among the hundreds or thousands of other people there.
My first night at the weekly singles event, I arrived late because I was nervous about coming. I sat in the back in the dark, watching the speaker on stage. And it was a stage - there were stage lights, spotlights, and video cameras. I had never seen anything like it before.
Afterwards, there were cookies and drinks in the ballroom-sized lobby. I stood against the wall, looking out at the hundreds of strangers, and tried to talk myself into introducing myself. But I couldn’t do it. Everyone looked beautiful, successful, and outgoing. At the time, I was very depressed and just couldn’t “put myself out there” any more than I already had by showing up.
But then someone came over and introduced herself. She asked if I was new, and then said, I thought you looked new. This can be a very intimidating place for new people.” She gave me her email and told me to write her and she would look for me the next week.
I was thrilled to have a possible friend and at the possibility of not sitting by myself again. I enthusiastically wrote her, but I never heard back.
But I continued attending, coming late so I wouldn’t look so awkward and alone, and leaving early so I didn’t have to stand against the wall again.
Finally, several months later I learned that there was a welcome table for new people. I had never heard that announcement because announcements were made at the beginning of the evening before I arrived.
Being at that megachurch was very healing in many ways. I participated in many activities including Celebrate Recovery that transformed my life. But I never quite fit in. I wasn’t one of those bubbly, outgoing, mingling-loving people.
I was at that church for 5 years, and attendance continued to double, and double. By the time I left the singles group was 3,500 people and they were running out of parking.
A couple years after I started attending, everyone started referring to everyone else as “friend.” “Hey friend.” “Thanks friend.” “Good to see you, friend.” These phrases were always uttered with complete enthusiasm, like we were actually friends. Most of the people saying this I had never met before, but I did know some of them. I began to wonder if they had forgotten my name, or they had just decided to call everyone that.
I’ve never understood that term. I can’t tell if it comes from the Facebook “friend” term, where people who you haven’t spoken to in 20 years can still be considered “friends.” My real friends call me by my name. When I was called “friend” at church, I felt that because they weren’t bothering to either introduce themselves or call me by my name, they were putting a wall up to guard against a possible friendship.
Maybe this is just a personal preference. Perhaps other people feel loved and accepted when everyone, even strangers, calls them “friend.” But that term makes me feel like a stranger.
So please, don’t call me friend. If you know me, call me “Miah,” and if you don’t remember my name or how to pronounce it, just ask me :)