Three little sisters from the neighborhood sit in a row beside me, stealing glances at me during worship. When I clap, they clap. When I look down to smile at them, they smile back at me. When I turn my attention to the worship leader and the lyrics on the screen, they try to do the same, but I can feel the gaze of the youngest one, still on me.
One of our two 8th graders rushes in soon after and sit on my right, tugging on my arm to announce her arrival. She leans in with eyes round and wide to report that our other 8th grader cannot be here because “she’s grounded… don’t worry, I’ll explain later.”
My husband sits in front of me, beside a professor at the local university – a tall, round, kindly older man who is new to our community and who generously provided pizza and snacks for our recent vision meeting. He has strong views on a matter that he will take up with our lead pastor after service; I know this is a sticking point for him. The worship team plays a hymn to better lead him (and a few others) into worship. As I watch his eyes close, I hope he knows this is for him.
Behind me sits one of my favorite couples at our church, who have been dating for a few years and are in their 40s/50s. Before I knew him better, his face seemed impassive and distanced, but now that I know him better, I just love it when he smiles: this wide, boyish grin that’s full of joy. She is such a great listener; I find myself sharing things that no one recently has been able to draw out from me. Usually I am the one listening to others. I am so happy they are at our church – if only, selfishly, for the way that I feel being around them.
Today is a Sunday when I’m not up front at all, not responsible for anything, not coordinating the next thing – I just get to be me. And that’s perfect for today – I walk quickly so I can meet the vaguely familiar guy sitting three rows behind me, before he makes his way out the door. At his request, I connect him to one of the life group leaders, then bow out to get to know the new college kids who have come. I especially want to catch up with the quiet freshman I haven’t seen in a few months.
This is my joy in pastoring at thirty. Mature enough to be some little girl’s role model, yet needful and almost hungry for the wisdom and experience of others. Humbled by the privilege of living and serving in a community that will let me be who I am and love me for it.
Tina Teng-Henson has been blessed to learn + grow alongside so many different people, in so many places: Long Island, NY — Harvard College + the South End of Boston — Nairobi, Kenya and Lanzhou, China. She is presently enjoying her studies at Fuller‘s Northern California campus and her internship at Recreate Church in San Jose.