aka, Looks like we found a church home(s)
The thought about diving into church at all, much less church shopping, hasn’t been something we looked forward to. There is a high amount of church burnout among me and my friends. A reluctance to invest again, be it being burned by previous experiences or just being disappointed. And this is with the full realization that there is no perfect church out there. I was reading on Scot McKnight’s blog about what he’d look for in a church home to see how well his list lined up with me and my wife’s lists. He said he’d consider at least the following items:
1. The significance of fellowship and community to the people already there.
2. Respect for the Great Tradition in the church, made manifest in how much attention to such elements in the church services.
3. Eucharist — how often? I prefer this weekly.
5. Teaching ministries: what’s important to the teaching?
6. Missional presence.
8. Public reading of Scripture.
9. Growing church — via evangelism and catechesis.
10. How many 20somethings and 30somethings are present?
I’d add an interesting addition to all of our lists: how are you greeted. We’ve had the oddest experience and it’s one that’s been repeated by our other friends as they’ve been church shopping. A lot of the communities we’ve visited haven’t been especially warm in greeting us even though in most situations (showing up as an interracial couple in our racially polarized church world), it was fairly obvious we were new. In fact, of the churches we’d visited, only three welcomed us. Which did help them make the short list.
I once wrote about my church life as dating. These days it feels like getting back into the dating scene after a divorce, so we haven’t been real excited about it. Friends have been inviting us to their churches (to extend the dating metaphor, it’s been sort of like double dating) and there have been some churches that I’d always wanted to visit (essentially blind dates). We actually still owe a few places a visit (Saturday evenings are tough to swing. Unless your social calendar revolves around your church group, it’s hard to carve out that time), but our children recently informed us that we had found our church.
Sally and I had our list narrowing down to two churches. On Sunday mornings at Common Ground, we can go and be invisible (Relatively anonymous. Turns out, Sally is well known by a lot of folks she knew from “back in the day”. I get to be “Sally’s husband” there), a place to just rest and continue healing. We have friends who go there, Sally and the pastor went to youth group together (ironically, it was the youth group she went to after she left the youth group where she and I met). Though I still struggled with finding a place to serve. We were walking with some friends through the building where the church we had checked out on Sunday evenings (The Crossing) meets, when the boys announced this was their church. On the list of churches we thought they might like, this was the least intuitive fit, after all, there was no kids program or kids their age and, not to put too fine a point on it, one third of the congregation is made up of homeless people. We asked them about why they liked it. Turned out they liked playing with the son of the co-pastor, the adults treat them like people, and they get to serve. They helped put the music equipment away and cleaned tables after the community meal. We don’t want to in anyway squelch their wanting to be helpful or serving others. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the place immediately. Instead of a “you won’t find anything better”/“we’re the best thing God’s got going” vibe which we often encountered (folks get really proud of their teachers), there is more of a “we’re a screwed up place. You sure you want to be here?” vibe.
This journey has been amazing and enlightening. Community is a tricky thing. You build community to have during times of stress. You can’t build community during times of upheaval (because there are times when you just can’t think straight and feel like you’re losing your mind), but community can be forged during them. You find out who can weather storms with you.
Friends that can know you at your worst and love you to new life are priceless treasures, a taste of God’s love. We appreciate those friends who supported Sally during all of this and continue to pray for her and be a part of her life. And while we miss the friendships that were lost, we are also grateful for the new friendships made.
I’ve been blessed to walk with a band of brothers, true men of God, who held me and my faith together when I wanted to chuck it all. I’d especially like to thank Jim Falk, Larry Mitchell, and Brad Grammer who continue to push and challenge me, remind me that the church is more than one particular expression/community, and that God’s not through with me yet.