Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Upon finding out that a friend did not have a church home despite having been in the area for a year, my first response was to be critical. Thank you mother for that gift you passed on to me. Argh. So I acknowledge that I have absolutely NO right to criticize anyone for not finding a church home. And so follows the story of my life in the church. (Please keep in mind that I mean no disrespect to any member/leader of any church mentioned here. Each place has its goods and its bads.) I choose to record this list for fear I would forget my journey, since I've already forgotten so much of it.

The first church I can remember is Cedar Grove Baptist church, where I spent my kindergarden through 4th grade years. We were the "good Baptist" family, in the church every time the doors were open: Sunday School, Sunday worship, training union, evening worship, Wednesday night service, visitation nights... I was in missionary kids (or something like that), GA's, Awana's, VBS, children's choir. I was baptized in that church too.

Then my dad came to the conclusion that the Baptists were incorrect in their teaching, so we moved to Covenant Presbyterian Church. Once again, we were there every time the doors were open, but the doors weren't open nearly as often. Probably had something to do with the prostitute houses and drug deals going on across the street. Anyway, Sunday School, Sunday worship, Wednesday nights, yep, we were there. Youth group was non-existent while I was a "youth;" for that matter, "youth group" was a bad word at that time. So I pretty much went from children's Sunday school to full-fledged adult overnight. We did have about 9 months when we had a teenage Sunday school class, studying the Screwtape Letters and some other random, boring book. I acted as nursery coordinator, and was Wednesday night nursery worker for 8 straight years. At that point in time, I liked the church for the most part, although after realizing there were other PCA teenagers my senior year, I wished for more focus on my age group and a more varied music selection. I honestly thought that the PCA did not have teenagers until I went to Summitt camp at Bryan College.

Then came the college years. And things became a bit more interesting.

I moved 500 miles away from home to attend a private Christian liberal arts college. We were required to attend Sunday worship at a church of our choice, although there were a certain number of passes for illness/exhaustion. (I think we had to listen to recorded sermons if we exceeded our limit.) I had no car, so for the first couple of months I went to a different church every Sunday, thanks to upper-classmen who would send out mass e-mails offering rides to the poor car-less freshmen. I was looking for a church doctrinally similar to my PCA background, but with a mix of praise&worship and hymns. For whatever reason, that combination was next to impossible to find.

I first settled in a church of which I cannot remember the name, although by googling what I remember of their beliefs, it was a Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. This church appears to be no more, since there's not even a church listed in VA on the RPCNA website. At the time, though, it met in the local community center. The pastor and his wife were two of the sweetest people I've ever met, welcoming college students into their home which was right across the street from the school. We sang only Psalms, without instruments except a pitch pipe. I actually enjoyed this form of music; the enjoyability comes not from what is sung, but from the spirit of the people with whom you sing. We met late (noon), I assume because we shared facilities with other churches, and had lunch provided by the ladies of the church after each service. If I recall correctly, we had Bible study during the week, but no Sunday School. I left the church after ~6 months. I realized that not only did they not celebrate Christmas, which didn't bother me due to having friends that did not as well, they did not celebrate Easter, nor make any mention of it. We were not served Communion, because you had to be a member of that particular church in order to partake. Our church only had perhaps three families; 90% of the church were college students, which means growth was minimal.

I expanded my horizons greatly after leaving that church, attending Cornerstone Chapel, affiliated with the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Several of my closest friends attended there, and I found the preaching to be both interesting and applicable. The music was primarily praise&worship, with guitars and drums, but not so loud as to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the church believed in speaking in tongues; not during the service, mind you, as that would be disruptive and violate Paul's teachings. While I was most certainly not gifted with tongues, I was willing to acknowledge, much to my parents' dismay, that tongues do exist in modern times. I was not at the church long enough to decide if I fully agreed with the church's teaching about tongues, since in my month there they were not mentioned once. I was forbidden to attend the church, and later told that I was not to attend any church that believed in speaking in tongues.

For the next couple of months, I attended Blue Ridge Bible Church, a non-denominational church meeting in a nearby school. Many faculty members of the college attended here, as well as the president of the college, and so they had an active ministry to the college by adopting students for a year and having them over to their homes. The great thing about it was you didn't have to attend Blue Ridge to be adopted by a Blue Ridge family. One of my roommates had been adopted by a wonderful family, the Matovitches, who had in turn unofficially adopted quite a few of her friends. Their home provided a welcome refuge to dorm-weary students, even providing a shower when our electricity was out. I was blessed to be welcomed both by the Matovitches and by another family whose names I've forgotten. Knowing these families is what drew me to Blue Ridge; I enjoyed their mix of praise&worship and hymns, found their sermons both interesting and applicable, and also enjoyed the service opportunities they provided, such as Awana. The following year, even though I did not attend Blue Ridge, I was a Cubbies leader; such fun!

Now you might wonder why, with all the things Blue Ridge had going for it, why I did not continue there the next semester. Over the summer, I was given a hierarchy of churches from which to choose. If number one on the list was not acceptable to me, I had to give a written reason for not attending there before I could move down to number two, and so on. It went something like this: #1: PCA, #2: non-PCA, reformed presbyterian, #3: reformed baptist, #4 baptist, #5: non-denominational; all churches believing in tongues are unacceptable.

So, since there were no PCA churches in the area that anyone with a car attended, I found an OPC called Ketoctin Presbyterian Church. It was within walking distance of the college, but also had several families who readily gave me their number and offers for rides, since my walking ability came and went that semester. We sang with piano, although I can't remember for sure if we only sang Psalms or hymns as well; I believe we sang both. Communion was served to all professing Christians on a monthly basis; this was where I had my first taste of wine, since grape juice was not offered. I about gagged my first communion there! I actually stayed put at this church for the entire semester I believe. Good singing, good preaching, good people, good food... what reason did I have to leave?

Of course, when you find yourself in a wheelchair unable to hold a pencil the week before finals, life needs to be re-evaluated. So back at Covenant I found myself, while I took a semester off and then attended community college. Covenant was my lifeline during that point of my life; I shudder to think what might have happened if I had not had that church and the people there. I poured myself into it, serving in the nursery and at VBS, teaching Sunday School, assisting with Wednesday night dinners. I got to know several families well and they became like second parents to me. I built friendships with many adults, participating in the choir, and spent late nights (to my parents' dismay) with the "young and restless" group. I enjoyed the teaching from both the pastor and assistant pastor, both of whom were new since I had left for college, and learned that singing is what you put into it.

When I moved to a university a couple hours away, I was quite concerned that I would go through the same church hopping that I had at my first college. Thankfully, God provided the most wonderful church, Grace Presbyterian. I didn't even visit anywhere else. I had met with the RUF minister during the summer, and so my first Sunday I went to the RUF sponsor church. The fellow student I was with and I received 3 lunch invitations that day; I knew I was at the right church then! =) The people were friendly, the pastor was funny, the music was an interesting mix of old and new hymn tunes. My future husband was also an associate member there, although at the time I did not know this.

When the university thing didn't work out, back I went to Covenant for a year at the technology center. I missed Grace, but Covenant was an acceptable substitute. After graduation, I returned to Grace, became a member, and continued to attend there even after moving 45 minutes away. E and I were married in that church. We were not able to be as involved as I would have loved to be due to our crazy work schedules and the distance. But, our time there was precious; we sorely miss the after church lunches with friends and the checking-in several families did.

When we moved to our new home, we were saddened by the state of the churches in the area. So many churches with so few people; we wonder how they can even pay the bills. We were hoping to find a place like Grace, but sadly, no such place seems to exist. We settled with the closest church that had more than 25 people that we didn't feel would judge us if we chose not to homeschool, Bridwell Heights. Don't get me wrong; it's a good church. It's just not Grace. I saw pictures recently of Grace's VBS; kids kids kids kids everywhere. Grace was a growing thriving church. Bridwell is... well... doing well, but I'm not sure I can say it's growing or thriving at this point. I've not seen any new member classes in the year we've been here, nor has anyone else joined the church since we have. The preaching is solid, although I do miss the RUF hymns with guitar. It seems to be a church that's at a crossroads; either it's going to pick up and start growing and thriving, or it's going to begin to die. Of course, almost all the other churches we visited were already on their deathbeds. The people are friendly, and since we've been able to attend a couple of fellowship meals I feel a little more connected. Work still prevents us from being able to be as involved as I'd like; seems like every time they have a picnic or something planned, we're working.

So, that's the story of my life in the church. Long and poorly written; perhaps I'll revise at some point and keep it for posterity.