On Finding (And Leaving) Church
Anyone who keeps up with us knows that we've struggled with the idea of leaving church for a really long time. I'm not sure when I last felt like I was part of a fulfilling church community. As we look back over our life together, D & I both feel like we've been searching for "home" as long as we can remember.
We tried to make House of the Rock "home," but something just never really clicked. Maybe it was that we were the only family with a small child who regularly attended. Maybe it was the worship time or location. Maybe it was the worship style. I'm not really sure what it was - but as much as we loved some aspects of it, and as hard as we tried to make it our "home" - we just always felt as though there was something missing.
When we made the hard decision to leave HotR, we decided we would stay with the Lutheran church that it is connected to. We knew some people there, Autumn felt comfortable worshiping there, we appreciated the larger ELCA connection, and we knew we agreed with the theology - particularly surrounding Baptism and Holy Communion. But we still felt like we were settling. We found it hard to plugin to ministry in ways that fully used the gifts God had given us. And although we love the people that make up the congregation, it never really felt like "home." It felt like a safe place to worship, but we still left every Sunday feeling as though something was missing.
Over the last couple of years, and particularly the last six months or so, we've visited a lot of churches. Some have had great worship services, but we missed the deep richness of the Lutheran theology surrounding the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Others had an incredible depth when it came to theology, but the worship style didn't match what we were really searching for.
Finally, after many attempts at finding our new home, we sat down to talk about what it is we were seeking in a church. We came up with four things that we really wanted:
- A grace-filled, sacramental understanding of Baptism and Holy Communion;
- Weekly Communion that is offered to all;
- Aspects of the liturgy and an appreciation of the liturgical calendar; and
- "Contemporary" music that isn't merely a performance or concert, but engages the congregation to participate.
There were a few other things that we agreed we were hoping to find, but when it came down to it, those were the four most important things to us. As time went on, we became convinced we would never find what we were looking for, and Baptism and Communion ended up being our ultimate deal-breakers. So we ended up back where we started. And we decided we would stay there. At least for now.
But then, due to a random (or maybe not so random) chain of events, we discovered a new church less than 5 minutes from our house. After I scoured the website for hours to find what I could about their theology and worship style, we decided we'd check it out. I was so excited to check it out, based on what I discovered in their website, that I had trouble sleeping the night before. I can remember saying to D, "Maybe it does exist. Maybe what we've been searching for is actually out there somewhere." I think we both expected to be disappointed in some way, but we promised to go in with an open mind.
We've visited three times now - and every time we go we leave feeling as though God has placed us there for a reason. It's not a perfect place - no church is - but neither D or I have felt a more powerful worship experience in a very long time. It's modern, liturgical, theologically rich, AND grace-filled. It's everything we have been hoping for.
But it's not Lutheran.
And where so many times before that's been my greatest hangup in finding a new church home - this time it doesn't even phase me. Where I used to find myself invigorated by the Lutheran church, now I find myself exhausted. My soul is drained from trying to be the change within the church I've known and loved for so long. My heart is tired. I am jaded. And all those things are the exact opposite of what you should be when you are a part of a church.
As painful as it has been to seek a church community outside of the Lutheran church, it's even more painful to stay put. And when it comes right down to it - the most important thing is not the denomination we find ourselves in - but how we live out the love that Christ has so freely shared with us.
So we're stepping out on a limb. We're taking a huge leap of faith. We're embracing this new church we've found as our home. We're giving God thanks for the rich Lutheran theology that has formed our faith to this point. We're praising God for the many opportunities we've had in the Lutheran church that have made us who we are - individually and as a family. And we are holding all of that dear to our hearts as we answer the call we've been hearing from God to go - without fear.
I am thankful for Sarah Bessey's article, In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism. As I read the article over and over and over again, I found tears streaming down my face. God used her words to give me permission. Permission to grieve. Permission to wander. Permission to find - and worship - God in a very unexpected place.