Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Looking for (Church) Love in All the Wrong Places...

Apart from sunshine and family, having a church community is what we are missing the most since we moved from California. I had been going to our church (New Heart) since it started ten years ago, and many people there were like family to me. Jeff and I had been fortunate to join our marriage group even before we got married, and really appreciated feeling known and supported by the families in that community. On the other hand, we were excited about the possibility of finding a new church, since there were other things we desired in a church that were missing at NH. Some of those things included being a community rather than commuter church, having a good range of ages and a wealth of "older and wiser" resources to draw from, and a more formal or liturgical setting. However, we also want a smaller church where we can feel like we know/ recognize most of the people each week.

When we first moved here, we found an Episcopalian church that was walking distance from our home. I really really want to go to a neighborhood church, because I want to see people from that community frequently, and to be able to participate in their lives frequently and outside of the church context. We visited this church right away, and really had a good feeling about it. I really appreciated that they have a healing touch spiritual ministry, and offer classes on the subject. They have a lot of other neat outreaches, and are a very warm, welcoming community. We dove right in and went to the "Journey of Faith" class about the Episcopal church. There we some things that we learned about the church that were really difficult for us to reconcile, and although we were willing to keep attending and building relationships in a church where we felt we didn't believe exactly the same things as most of the others there, if we felt that God wanted us to, what really made us decide to keep looking was the fact that there weren't any other families there with kids Amelia's age. We didn't feel there was a lot of potential for us to make practical friends and connections. However, I still felt pretty sad about leaving, since we'd been going there and trying to build relationships for a couple of months already.

Since then, looking for a church has been a surprising (albeit disappointing) adventure!

Week 1: We went to a Friends church that had been recommended by several people. The feeling there was very odd and kind of depressed. It felt really anemic and awkward. They also started the service by singing an advent hymn that described Jesus: "see how white his skin, how rosy his cheeks!" Everyone looked a little uneasy, which I guess was good. I hadn't had much sleep the night before, and was struggling to stay awake. The service seemed to go on forever, and toward the end they had their signature sharing time. Someone stood up and said they were offended by the hymn, but offered that we all experience Christ relative to our own personal backgrounds. Some other stood up to comment on this, then people offered a couple of praises/ prayer requests. Next, a woman in a fancy wheelchair a couple of feet away from me said that she had a prayer request-- did we know that Evil Knievil had passed away? The lady up front fumbled for a moment and then said that we should pray for Evil's family during this time. She started praying, and as she came to the end she prayed about Evil Knevil's recent death and for his family. There were many stifled snickers throughout the congregation, and at this point in the weird, tense service, I was feeling completely loopy. I got the giggles, BAD. I was laughing so hard that I was crying, and all I could do is hope that it really looked like I was crying. Jeff was patting my back saying "It's OK... It's OK" through the prayer time. After that there was another song and then it was over. We got out of there as fast as we could, and throughout the afternoon I kept breaking in to giggles every time I thought about Evil Knievel.

Week 2: We visited a Presbyterian Church that has a MOPS program. I've never been to MOPS, but thought this might be the right time, since I can't really figure out how else to meet anyone. This church was pretty, and was really basic. The sermon was read a little awkwardly, but wasn't bad. I don't think we met anyone, and didn't really feel any "chemistry" there.

Week 3: We decided we'd like to try a Lutheran church, and found one close- ish to us online. We should have known better, since the site hadn't been updated for seven years. We got there for the 9:30 service to find about three cars in the parking lot. We drove around looking for another church with a service time on their marquee, and ended up going home to eat breakfast and look up a 10:30 service. We found an old Methodist church in the same neighborhood, and high-tailed it over there for the service, only to read on their marquee that their service was actually at 10 a.m.! We went home, defeated.

Week 4: Sunday before Christmas. We went back to that old Methodist church we'd tried to go to the week before. We were excited about a Christmas service, and had a visitor (Luke) with us this time. We joined about five other people in the sanctuary, plus five people singing in the choir up front. They didn't have a program, really-- they just asked for requests for hymns and sang one verse of each for a little while. Most of the people were over fifty. After the singing, a young Korean pastor got up and spoke, preached a nice sermon. There was a fellowship time afterward, and we talked to just about everyone there. This church is on its last leg, so the Methodist leaders sent in a Korean couple to try to revive the church and make it a multicultural one. It turns out that the pastor is also assigned to another church across town, so he and his wife and baby go to both each week, and he preaches twice. There are no kids in the church, and it turns out that they had a really rough time with a premature baby and some health issues early on-- I can't imagine going through that in a new city, without a good community. I really felt for them, and they asked us to please attend their church. I think they knew this was asking a lot, as I am sure they're only there because they have been sent there!

Week 5: We found a very nice-looking Lutheran church in a neighborhood nearby. They also run a preschool there. Oddly enough, they didn't have a nursery, and didn't seem to appreciate having a toddler talking during the service! The church was beautiful and there were a lot of people there, but no one spoke to us. I was even in the cry room with A. with several other people and their kids, but no one was really interested in introducing themselves or anything of that friendly nature. Maybe if we kept showing up they'd want to know who we were, but we didn't really feel like going back.

At this point, we took a couple of weeks off!

Last Sunday was Week 6: We went to a Mennonite church that is still in our quadrant of Portland, but further away than all of the rest. We had heard some good things about this church, but had put off going, since in our "ideal world," we'd be able to walk to our neighborhood church! This church was upbeat, full but not large, and everyone seemed to want to be there. They have a lot of good programs, many of which relate to social justice and being good stewards of the environment, our resources, etc. We especially enjoyed the worship-- there is no choir, but one of the sunday school classes in the morning is "singing class" and I would guess that at least a third of the congregation had been attending! The singing was amazing, all of the hymns were sung in all of the parts and sounded beautiful. The nursery was busy, and although we didn't really talk to anyone there, they were at least friendly. The teaching was pretty good (I feel awkward somehow rating sermons, but I haven't been impressed by any, ever, since we left New Heart.) I think we'll give it another go.

We would sure like to make some friends and get plugged into a church community, but I feel strongly about not rushing the church finding process, since I have a really hard time uprooting and moving on. This feels a lot like starting to date again after being in a long-term relationship (10 years!) I actually really enjoyed dating before Jeff and I were together, and went on blind dates, set-ups, etc., in hopes for at least a good story, if not finding the right one. At this point, however, we're tiring of the church dating scene, especially with so few 2nd or 3rd dates, and would like to find and settle down with our true Church Love.


TimnND said...

Your words and your journey is a familiar one. Thanks for sharing ... we are praying that God will lead you to the place He has for you. It's not easy starting again! feel free to send me a note if you want to catch up sometime. - Naomi

Daniel Shackelford said...

We have the same idealism when it comes to our choice in church. Unfortunately, we have wandered a similar path, and now feel we might be most connected at an Orthodox church 30 minutes away.

Here, churches out in the country consist of a few families, which may constitute a large number of people, but the community already exists, and it is a little awkward to jump into it without the history, or genetics.

There is also the problem we have with "look at me!" programs at churches. I love to see outreach and social programs, but a tour of the new emergent cafe in the basement of a old church in a podunk town just does not impress.

ShackelMom said...

Thanks for such an interesting recounting of your church search saga! Sounds pretty interesting and makes me tired just reading it. We did a little of this between Brea-Olinda and going back to Granada. It was pretty interesting and eye-opening. Friendly was important to us too, and at one big church, the only people who introduced themselves were also visitors.

Gretchen said...

I laughed till I cried over the Friends church experience! That is so awkward!
I really hope you can find a place of good fellowship, teaching and praise.

Great Aunt Gretchen said...

What a story about the Friends Church! Are there any Evangelical Free for Calvary Chapels up there? They are usually Biblically based, with family programs, etc.
Don't give up!
Aunt Gretchen

annie said...

I remember how difficult it was for Evan and me to find our place after leaving the churches we had both grown up in. That was almost ten years ago and we just found our "love" and home in a church three years ago but of course there are some things I wish were different about it. Namely, more families with kids our age. We just keep praying and waiting for them to come. I will be praying for you guys and your search.
That Friends Church experience is hilarious! I can picture you with the giggles in church. Too funny!
I miss you.

Nathan said...

ugh! your experience I can relate to so much. my family church hopped SO much when we moved from PA. to IL and I really despised it-

thankfully, when Nathan and I moved again we knew our choices were limited due to being Orthodox...I liked the fact that when we entered our new Church Home that we were already accepted as family and the Body of Christ. We were very fortunate to have such a wonderful Parish already here...

keep looking and when you find a place, I hope it will be a welcoming homecoming.


Nathan said...

Really interesting descriptions... I think it's pretty tough because if you aren't drawn to some kind of "new development" type church, the traditional ones are probably less than dynamic and warm. I hope you hone in on one that fits you and your relationship to God and community.

As Carol said, we felt lucky to be transplanted into a church that we liked even more. It was cool.

Heidi said...

Thank you for sharing such a great account of your search. I was so glad to read it, as I have never had to make that search...however I think I will be on that exact journy soon. Hope you find "home" soon! Blessings!

Leslie said...

Oh, my gosh, Ariana - seriously, look no further than MOSAIC PORTLAND. My dear, dear friend is the new pastor there, and I think you would really like it...I dunno, but it could be something...

I think the website is www.mosaicportland.org? Or Google it? Tim Osborn, Pastor. I love that man, and his family.

blessings to you --