Speaking of waiting, it’s Sunday and there is a meeting after church. So I’m posting because I have access to a computer and plenty of time to work on it.
Sometimes I wonder what life is like for people who pick a church home. How do you come by that decision? The reason this is a source of wonder for me is that being both a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s kid, I have only had one opportunity in my life to find a church home: while in college.
After years of studying about church, ministry, evangelism, and sharing the Good News with others, I realized something today. It really is all about relationships. Yes, I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s something I’ve talked about in classes and discussed as a theoretical thing. But as I reflect on the only church home I ever chose, it was a relationship thing.
During my first year of college, I church-hopped a lot. I didn’t have a car, so it was a matter of finding a ride with someone or walking to the nearest church. I floated around without any real sense of belonging to a family. Then my sophomore year I had a car, but my friend Jessica didn’t (she is one of the friends who had to introduce herself). I can’t recall now if it was that year or the next when she asked me to attend church with her, the church her grandparents had always gone to. I think it started because she didn’t have transportation but I had the car. So I started going with her, not every week at first, but I liked the way the pastor preached and the people were nice.
Jessica graduated after four years. I, being a bit slower to figure out my major, was still at school for a fifth year, but I kept going to Mount Calvary. That was the name of the church. And here’s the thing: People got used to seeing me there. I was gone for a couple of weekends due to work and breaks from school, and a woman came up to me when I went back and said she was so glad I came back.
I get to missing churches, sometimes, not that things aren’t good at our new church but I miss the familiar. So I think back through the churches of my past – St. Johns, where I grew up; First Lutheran, where I lost my naivete about church (not all congregations are warm/fuzzy); Mount Calvary; and Salem, where I learned to be a pastor’s wife. There were some gaps in there, short stints at churches while my husband served as a mission developer, but most of that time was spent church hopping or with me working with youth, and we weren’t anyplace long enough to call it home.
And now we are part of Gloria Dei. I know there will come a time when it feels like home, too. But right now, because it’s not there yet, I miss my former churches. I think that’s a normal part of the process, but it’s still tough for me.
bethany actually said:
I’m going to write a book. I hope that’s okay. 🙂
I was baptized into the family of Christ and into membership at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church when I was 3 years old. For the next 15 years, that was my home. In many ways, the people there were a more-important part of my life than some of my actual relatives. When I was in high school and working at an after-school program at a local United Methodist Church (where my then-boyfriend was an active member) I often attended services there but I rarely missed a Sunday at Mt. Olive. When I went away to college an hour from home, I attended services at an Evangelical Free church with a friend on the rare Sunday I wasn’t at home for the weekend, worshiping at my home church.
When Troy and I got married and moved to San Diego, for the first time in my 21 years of life I had to find my own church. We church-hopped a lot in the three years we lived there, never settling down in one congregation. Partly that was because Troy was gone a lot and I hated going to a new church by myself, so I would just attend services at one close to my house that we knew we didn’t want to join. And partly, it was because Mt. Olive was an incredibly hard act to follow.
When we moved to Ottawa after three years of church-hopping, we were determined to find a church home. And we did! We were extremely blessed in Ottawa to find St. Luke. The very first Sunday we were there we liked the pastor’s sermon, and several people came over to welcome us to the church and invite us to coffee after the service. We were even invited to join the book club that first visit! We joined the church a few weeks later.
In Virginia, next, we never joined a church. Again, Troy was gone a LOT, even more than he had been in San Diego. We had only a few churches to choose from, and the ones closest to us were huge congregations with multiple services, something that neither of us is comfortable with. We both like smaller congregations where we have a decent chance of actually recognizing most of the members after a couple of months. We almost joined a congregation 30 minutes away, but ended up deciding it was too much of a drive. Then I started working at a Lutheran school and the rest of the time we lived there we just attended services there, but never really felt “at home.” I think that was largely because Troy was gone so much, though.
In Arizona, we church-hopped a lot as there are many Lutheran churches to choose from in the Phoenix area! We even worshipped at a church where we were friends with one of the pastors (Dustin Lappe, whom we knew from Camp Luther!). When I found out I was pregnant, we decided we’d better join a church so we could get our baby baptized when she was born. 🙂 So we ended up joining a church close to our home where we liked the pastor well enough and there were small groups we could join. We actually got a lot out of the small group we were a part of, but the church itself was rather large for our liking and the pastor was a good guy but not my kind of pastor. (I like ’em intellectual and theologically rigorous; this pastor was emotional and given to going off on tangents during sermons and reminiscing about his days at a Christian commune when he was a young man.)
In Maryland, there was only one LCMS congregation in town, Trinity. That made it easy! We joined more or less immediately, and someone called to invite us to a midweek family Bible study that had free babysitting. We started attending that and quickly become friends with the people there. One of them was Rebekah, who would become one of my best friends and my social director, dragging me into a playgroup (where I would meet more wonderful friends and fellow Christian moms) and introducing me to pottery-painting! We had our small group of good friends and that was great, but…overall the church wasn’t the best for us. It was too big, and again the pastor was a good guy but not my kind of pastor.
Here in San Diego we’ve been searching for a church home on the Sundays that we’ve been in town, which has not been many. We think we’ve finally found a congregation we like. It’s fairly small, with only one service. The services are traditional and the pastor has a sense of humor and the people are friendly and welcoming without being pushy.
So I think the overarching theme here is, what we look for in a congregation is size and a pastor we can relate to. Those aren’t THE things everyone should be looking for. In fact, I know what we should be looking for is a congregation where we can contribute something, rather than a place where we can get something. And I think as we visit new churches we are considering both. I believe that there are so many different congregations and denominations in the world because there are so many different types of people. What could be seen as a downfall of the Church–an inability to come together in unity–can also be seen as a strength, in that not every person in the world would feel comfortable at a Roman Catholic church, or a Pentecostal church, or whatever. God uses us in our broken state to draw more people to Him in whatever way He can!
Some people love big churches and emotional sermons, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think after 13 years of moving around and looking for church homes, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I know what works for me, and in what kind of congregation I can best use my gifts.
Wow. Hard act to follow. But, of course, I will try.
We go to Gloria Dei. Different Gloria Dei, of course. How did we get here? I asked our realtor to look for an LCMS church, one of his associates was an elder at GD, I went, liked the contemporary service because they did my favorite Wayne Watson song (Almighty) and Peg liked the service. We were welcomed by one older couple. We built relationships. Madison found an active youth group and built relationships. So, we stayed there, even though there was a closer LCMS church with active groups and more kids from Madi’s high school.
Things have changed a lot. I would probably not choose Gloria Dei today. There are other alternatives out there. But I would not be who and what I am today had I not had the relationships of Gloria Dei. It’s funny how God works that way. He truly is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Another Wayne Watson song is that he’d rather walk in the dark with Jesus than walk in the light on his own. That’s the way it is when you pick churches. You walk in the dark with Jesus until he glows in your heart when you’re at the right place.
Realize, of course, I have been a lot of places and a lot of churches and several denominations. I won’t write the compendial dissertation on this (yet, or at least not in your blog, maybe some day in mine). It is definitely a body of Christ relationship thing, though.
Those first two years at Concordia were hard as far as church goes. I don’t particularly like church hopping and ended up at Mt. Calvary with you, Steph, partially because it was where my Grandparents attended, but mostly because I really liked the church. Thanks for taking me there for two years!
I think I have had 4 church homes – Grace where I grew up and my dad pastored for 18 years, Mt. Calvary for the 2 years at Concordia (and the only time I have not been heavily involved in the ministry of the church), Unity where my husband assisted during his STM year, and our current church Our Saviour where I love being and can’t see leaving anywhere in the near future (and this after 7 years of ministry here!).
I think a home is where you feel welcomed and love and an integral part of a community centered around the body of Christ. I am sure I could have found that in some of the places I church hopped through at CSP if I had put in more effort. Like our home when we moved in – it needed a little work and cleaning to find the beauty under the grime. Sometimes it takes wiping away our own prejudices about what church should be to find the beauty of God underneath it all.
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