Before we moved back 'home' here in 2009, (I use the term home loosely since as much as we move, home seems to be wherever we end up...but 'home' in this instance is PA, where we're originally from) we lived in Tennessee for five years. Oliver Springs was a small rural town, probably not much bigger than where we lived in New Bremen, Ohio, but living down south is a whole different experience than it is living above the Mason Dixon line.
Aside from the devastating fact that you don't see much of snow in OS (my least favorite aspect of southern living), the next biggest difference is openness regarding faith and spirituality. You're in the heart of the Bible belt there and folks aren't shy talking about church down in Dixie.
Growing up, our family always went to church and Sunday school every week. We said prayers at dinner and bedtime, but apart from that, folks up north don't seem to be very vocal about their faith life. The adage about not talking about politics or religion is taken very seriously (though that seems to have changed regarding politics in past years with Bush, Clinton, and Obama bashing...always good to get one's blood boiling!) Still, Yankees are relatively hush-hush when it comes to church talk.
I am thankful for our five years in Tennessee for what it did to my faith life. We found ourselves immersed in a wonderful church home at Faith Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge--a very warm and welcoming congregation unlike anything I'd ever known up north. The greeters hugged everybody--all the more so if you were visiting! Hugged! I'm extremely introverted and shy (my husband agrees when I call myself socially retarded...) I'm not a very touchy feely person, especially when it comes to strangers, and that first experience rather shocked my nervous system....but in a good way. The members there talked to you as if you were family and so happy you had come home to visit, and truly encouraged you to stay. Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."
We stayed. Michael's Sunday school teacher taught kindergarten and was super great with the kids. She was also very cute and Michael immediately developed quite a crush on Ms. Jessica! The adult Sunday school classes (yes, plural--there were at least two or three to choose from) were brilliant. They also had several small groups going on every month and we settled into the family Bible study group that met once a month over dinner at church, then the kids would all head off to play or watch a movie, while us 'grown ups' would have study time. We developed some great friendships during those years as well as found ourselves grown closer to God.
After moving back home, I miss that openness of talking about church and faith. It took us a while to find a new church home, but eventually found our way to Trinity Lutheran. We immediately liked our pastor, and our Aaron's minister, and the traditional services. Michael went to Sunday school and Bill and I joined the weekly adult class, which is a great bunch of people. I think we gab more than we actually study sometimes, but what is faith without fellowship, right? I joined the women's Bible study group and I laugh because they treat me like a youngster...I look young for my age, but I'm not that much younger than some of the ladies! They're a sweet group and we always have good yummies to snack on--food is always a plus! Now I'm engaged in another Bible study group run by our Aarnon's minister which meets twice a month (more gabbing and fun!) but it's wonderful to be back among people who are open and willing to share their faith rather than zip lips and change topics quick.
God encourages us to keep company with others in faith. And I am thankful for my church families, here and in Tennessee (miss you guys!!) May we all be more bold, regardless of where we live, north or south, to share God's love and grace with each other and not be quiet or shy. Those dark days will come and we'll all need to know we are loved.