"My feelings exactly!"
"She could have been speaking for me."
"I have been trying to find the same thing for years now."
Those were just some of the responses I got recently after I printed a letter from a woman in Wichita, Kan., who said she was having a hard time finding a church because she's an introvert.
In her letter, she said she was willing to help out at a church but felt uncomfortable in most because they try to smother a person with attention _ before, during and after a worship service.
So I asked readers for the names of churches in the Wichita area that they might recommend. I've passed on those suggestions. But I also wondered: Is this a problem other people have? Are churches in general a bit too friendly?
According to the mail I received, the majority answered loudly _ though often anonymously _ AMEN!
Take a look:
"It sure brightened my day to know that I'm not the only one out there that is uncomfortable attending church," said a respondent. "It seems that within the last two or three years, more and more emphasis is being placed on greeting your "neighbor' with a handshake," an introduction during the service that causes this respondent "to break out in a cold sweat, desperately trying to think of something meaningful to say." And then, she said in exasperation, the ritual is repeated after the sermon.
A 77-year-old grandfather was so sympathetic to the introverted woman's plight that he offered to drive her to his church where "at least we Quakers are not all saints."
Those who agreed with the woman often had their own unhappy tales of touchy-feely churches.
A woman from Wichita said she is embarrassed when the minister asks the worshipers to hold hands during a time of prayer. "I am always praying for it to be a short prayer," she said. Another said she visited a church that "went through the hugging thing."
"I am very uncomfortable hugging people I do not know," she wrote.
Even after the service is over and they're back home, some people say they can still feel put upon. One man said he doesn't appreciate church members who "wish to stop by (unannounced) for an hour or so."
Some respondents said uncomfortableness at church isn't always a matter of shyness. Because she has a panic disorder, a respondent says she likes "to slip into church before work (or after) and spend a little while in the quiet at the altar." Each month she leaves a check on the pulpit "for the amount I can afford."
"Maybe this isn't being a "true Christian,' but I feel closer to God this way," she wrote. "Also, I don't have to make small talk or explain why I wasn't at church a certain Sunday when someone always asks this question."
Others were unclear as to whether their impersonal congregations were a plus or a minus. One woman described her congregation as a "marvelously unfriendly place" where "no one dares to speak to another in the church."
"There will be somber organ music and music chosen from the 16th century," she said. "There is a sign of peace in this liturgy, but again, don't worry. There are only a few handshakes and a few people will only nod. . . . The parish is so big, most people don't know if you belong there or not, so they are not tempted to even greet you."
Another said folks at her church wouldn't smother anyone with attention because "there are two side doors and we come and go without "interference'."
Still another suggested visitors show up at his church right before the service starts, follow the clergy and choir as they process to the front ". . . and take a seat in an empty back pew, being sure no one is closer than two pews away. (If you really want to be alone, sit in the front pew; not even the clergy wives sit there!)"
Only a few respondents were critical of the introverted church seeker. A writer suggested the woman might consider a church "with a choir loft and sit in the highest part and wait until everyone leaves."
"A church is made up of people," she went on to say, "and if she can't bear any kind of contact, maybe she should stay home and watch a service on TV."
Then there was a minister who said he doubts that the woman will ever find "the perfect church."
"What she is looking for and what churches that want to survive are offering are total opposites," he wrote. "If others in her "perfect church' are like her, it would be more like a refrigerator than a church."
In fact, he said, the only place he could think of where she wouldn't be bothered by other people is "a cemetery."