Monday, June 16, 2014

Looking for a Church ... Again

Why is finding a church such a difficult process?

When we first moved to the D.C. area, almost three years ago, we spent eight months looking for a home church. We tried every single one that people recommended to us (which were mostly way too big), plus ones we found online (which were mostly too small). In June 2012, we chose a church that was thirty minutes away from us (by car), and called it home for a year. It was a sweet place for us in many regards. After a few months, however, we realized there were some pressing issues that weren't being resolved no matter how hard we tried, and though we hated the idea of 'church-hopping', when we moved house, it made sense to find a new church closer to home.

In July of last year, we began looking for a church within a 15-minute drive from our house, trying all kinds and denominations. We visited Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Bible churches. We tried Wesleyan and Vineyard, Presbyterian and Anglican churches. We even tried an 'artsy' church that only had about 20 people at their Taizé service. Despite the uncertainty we faced each Saturday night -- "Where are we going tomorrow?" -- I actually enjoyed and appreciated the diversity of the Church. God's world is so big, and He's made us to be creative and unique people. I'm glad that churches aren't all the same! I found beauty in liturgy, and refreshment in spontaneity; richness in old hymns, and excitement in contemporary music; peace in sharing Communion with a Body I didn't know, and joy in celebrating the world's diversity with a parade of nations.

Ultimately, though, we're called to be part of a particular community, where we can grow our roots and become family with other members. And now a year later, that's what we're still lacking. Six months ago, we had narrowed our choices down to three churches, but in February, decided to try our local church for the first time. Amazingly, it fit many of our criteria and the fact that it was in our own neighborhood was a huge bonus. We attended almost weekly for the past four months, and even got involved in ESL ministry. We really thought and hoped it would be the right fit for us.

Unfortunately we're encountering a few roadblocks and wondering if we've been in the wrong place. 1) They are looking for a new pastor, and in the meantime, other staff members are preaching. We're struggling with the quality of teaching. 2) Even though we've done more than just 'show up' each Sunday morning, people have not been terribly friendly to us. Especially given Steve's time and energy that he's put into ESL classes, we're surprised that no one has wanted to get to know us. It's just expected that he'll keep teaching! 3) We really don't agree with Reformed theology and especially the conservative brand of it (PCA). Personally (more for me than Steve) the traditional format of worship and never getting to hear from women up front will (I think) really wear on me. Since both of us are more Arminian than Calvinist in our theology, Presbyterian churches aren't the greatest fit for us.

So.... last night we decided to try one of our previous "top three" again. This morning we attended United Wesleyan Church, and felt refreshed by the great sermon, enthusiastic worship singing, and amazing conversations afterward. The teaching was vulnerable, relevant and even grabbed our children's attention. How sad we were to hear that their pastor is resigning, though -- yet another church which will be in transition right when we're trying to get *more* settled, not less! It is a small church, (and we were hoping to avoid one quite that small, mostly because our home-schooled kids could really use a good source of friendship) but we'd already decided that small is better for us than big.

Despite its problems, we are wondering if this might have been the right fit for us after all. I remember the very first time we'd tried United, and the tears that had trickled down my cheeks as I'd watched half the pews fill with Africans. I've often longed for a touch of Nigeria here in America; the ladies' vibrantly colored dresses, and all of their dark skin made me think, "I've come home." Just as importantly, the church staff have international experience and hearts that beat for the world. These are folks with whom we feel a real connection (even though we barely know them) and with whom we've had remarkable conversations. This has been hard to find, given Steve's Islamic studies and our interest in true dialogue and friendship with Muslims. Most Christians we've encountered, especially pastoral staff, just don't understand where we're coming from and have a completely different view of how to act towards people of other faiths.

We continue to ponder all these things ... trying to balance theology and teaching and children's ministry and relationships and worship style. Many have said to me, "No church is perfect -- just pick one! You're taking too long!" And yet, we feel like we are choosing a spouse, patiently and prayerfully waiting on God's guidance for the right one. We want to be committed. We want this decision to be "for keeps" if at all possible. We will be here for five more years, Lord willing, and while we know that no church is perfect, we also believe God has a good fit for us. Hoping to settle on it soon....

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