It’s not a secret that Eric and I are looking for a new church home. In talking about it, I’m afraid I’ll make people we used to fellowship and serve with weekly uncomfortable. I’m hoping they haven’t “taken it personally.” This was a decision that was right for our family. God was propelling us forward into the wilderness for a time as a family.
The wilderness can be beautiful, compelling, an an adventure. It can also be scary, lonely, and full of uncertainty. I’ve experienced that range of feelings during the time I was testing venturing into the unknown, and as a family, we’ve experienced it together during the weeks of walking into new churches.
Of course Eric and I sat down and did our usual research and reading. We don’t just buy anything or try a new hobby without due diligence. We made a list of our beliefs; we made a list of values we’d like our new church to hold; we made a list of churches we’d like to try.
This isn’t to say we’re just checking items off our lists. No, those were guideposts for us as we began our wandering. We realize that the perfect church on paper might not be perfect after all. We’re open to where the Spirit would lead. But just as Eric checks trail maps and ensures his supplies are all ready before he leaves on a weekend hiking expedition in the wooded mountains, we wanted to make sure we kept our focus.
This past Sunday our wanderings led us to a relatively young church on the outskirts of Summerville. The website was informative, if not pretty slick. There was even a “plan your visit” section that let you register your children in advance for their children’s ministry. Color me impressed, right? I’m all about your tech.
I’d listened to a few podcasts before hand. The pastor seemed grounded and scripturally solid.. I’d lurked on their Twitter page, their Facebook page. They seem to have a real heart for serving the poor, the needy, the wounded. Because oh, I can’t begin to tell you how much deep down in my soul I want to find a church that has written in their DNA a heart for service. The type of service that reaches out into the local community and is seen regularly as the hands and feet of Jesus. A church that gets that is our mission, that being the Gospel is key to sharing the Gospel.
So when I made a list of churches to visit, this particular church was high on my personal list. And I was secretly excited the lead pastor is a woman. Honestly, I could write blogs and blogs on this topic (and just a fair warning, I probably will after Lent is over). As Sarah Bessey says in Jesus Feminist, “The women of the gospel narrative ministered to Jesus, and they ministered with him. The lack of women among the twelve disciples isn’t prescriptive or a precedent for exclusion of women any more than the choice of twelve Jewish men excludes Gentile men from leadership.” And don’t get me started on how two verses in two letters to two particular churches have come to override the entire canon of the Bible and the actual, literal examples of women in leadership roles…
Sorry, rabbit trail. Anyway, I was excited about this church. And when we arrived, we were duly impressed. Seriously, we hadn’t stepped into the welcome area (it’s central to the one entrance) for more than 30 seconds before someone walked up and said, “Are you the Livingstons?” Huh, that “Plan your visit” thing was handy. They already had the kids labels printed out, registered and checked in to the kids program. They had a gift bag with our name on it. They showed us to each drop off location for the kids and then escorted us to our seats. A well oiled machine.
The band was great. Immensely talented, striking that perfect balance of worship and performance. Lighting, sound, execution… all down pat. Good selection of songs. An ideal worship team.
The pastor was good. Energentic, conversational. And in a way that touched me deep in my soul, it was amazing to have a woman up on that stage. Her style, her examples, her life experience… so similar to mine. I can’t really explain it in words… It just felt right and good and an instant connection… a spiritual version of “girl power.” Again, I’m not wanting to turn my Lenten series into a controversial thing since I know I have some traditional readers… I’ll follow these thoughts up later, after this Holy season is over.
Anyway, what surprised me is this… everything about this visit was perfect. From the Plan your Visit a couple nights before, to the welcome, to the music, to the message. Heck, even as we were leaving, our personal greeter was there to wish us well and thank us for coming and making sure we met the pastor. It was literally the perfect church visit.
Yet, this place I had visited and secretly hoped to fall in love with felt foreign. It should have felt comfortable. Eric and I joked it was like a super professional version of the church we had recently left. Had we visited this place first or second, I’m not sure I would have wanted to visit anywhere else. Yet, there was this odd sense of not being comfortable. My checklist of beliefs was met. Our values were all there. This church had done everything right. It should have been a home run.
But what’s interesting about this time in the wilderness is that God’s used it to change us… to show us a different way he wanted us to go. I never realized that my heart would pine so much for the elements of this new way of worship that we’ve found in the liturgy at various Anglican churches. I didn’t expect to miss our corporate prayers. I didn’t expect to find my worship style changing so much from the energy of a professional worship band to the simple presentation of an acoustic set of worship music (seems the more contemporary Anglican fellowships love simplicity in the presentation of music). I didn’t expect to miss the presence of the Eucharist table in the front of the church. And, I certainly didn’t expect to feel less than fed spiritually when I missed out on a sip of wine and a little wafer being placed in my empty hands. Taste and see that the Lord is good… it has a completely literal meaning in my life now.
If I were to grade our most recent visit, I’d give them an A+. But in almost three months, I’m not the same person I was who started this wandering in the wilderness. God’s changed me. He’s shown me a different way of feeding my soul and spirit. I’m not saying other ways are wrong or inferior. In the body of the church that is so complex and varied, there are going to be differences. And it’s okay. Sarah Bessey said in Jesus Feminist, “I think the family of God is big and diverse, beautiful and global.”
This season of wandering in the wilderness is amazing and beautiful and scary and uncertain. And I’m okay with that. And what I’m learning about God and myself and my family – because let me tell you, my kids are insightful and amazing – I wouldn’t trade this experience.
I feel a bit of a misfit at times, yes. I feel unsettled, definitely. But what I’m learning about God and my walk with him during this time wouldn’t happen in a state of comfort.
Amazing little tidbit… God’s been preparing me for this for a while. A verse that just got on my radar this past fall: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)