So the first thing we did when we got to our new town was find a church. And we found it-- the same flavor, brand or whatever-you-wanna-call it as we have always belonged to. Our first day at church was familiar-- same songs, same formulas, same cast of characters: old ladies, staunch gentleman, a spattering of young families and surly teenagers.
We were comfortable there but it seemed that the church wasn't comfortable with us. We stood out as the only malihini, and me especially as the only haole, in the whole congregation.
About the first 3 or 4 months we went to the church, no one would talk to us, or even look at us. When we walked near groups of people chatting, conversations dried up. Attempts at small talk were deflating.
We would not be deterred however, and decided to start small. I called to ask a nice-seeming couple over for dinner. I told the wife that we'd like to have them over some time. Her response was, "Why?"
Eventually it got better. I elbowed my way into the choir, and then got to know the names and faces of all the altos, until we would hug and kiss each other at church, and when we bumped into each other at the grocery store.
After many months we were both given responsibilities in the church. And now we grumble about church, roll our eyes at the amount of time it absorbs out of our lives, and as always we go every sunday and to all of the activities, even sometimes when we'd rather stay home.
In the nearly 2 years that we've spent here, church has been an on going source of both delight and irritation. We've found wonderful friends and surrogate Aunties. DH has found fishing buddies who've shown him the ropes with a snorkel mask and a spear. I've learned how to crochet yarn leis and how to pickle green peaches and make onolicious mochi balls. I've sung in the choir and learned Hawaiian hymns, and gone hiking with the church-sponsored boy scout troop. We've also been helped in practical ways-- we found our rentals through church contacts, and I got a part time job I can do from home working for one of the women I met through church. I've tutored the teens and learned the convoluted family histories of the Aunties, and through that the convoluted history of our town.
Without our church community we would be completely isolated in this new place. Maybe that is why not only malihini like us but nearly everyone in our tiny town belongs to, at least nominally, one church or another. Maybe that is why in a town with a population of only a few thousand there are 9 or 10 churches just on the 1/2 mile strip of main road. Even a small town can be too big, so we partition ourselves off into little mini-communities, self-sustaining and sometimes too-close-for-comfort.
So now when Auntie Kanani tuts at me for carrying my baby too much, or Auntie Nancy asks me to tutor her daughter, or Sister Renee leaves lilikoi cheesecake on the doorstep, I can be satisfied in that we have become a part of a community with all the give and take that goes with that.