Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Finding a church that fits - big, small or in between

I've had two of what I consider "church homes" in my life. One had 4 weekend services with a total attendance nearing 800 in Florida's "snowbird" season. The second has one service that typically has less than 100 in attendance. Both have meant the world to me and been an important part of my life.

Now, some people grow up in a particular church. They go there as children with their parents, and later bring their children there. They're lucky. Church is a part of their family from day one.

For many others, finding a church that fits is more difficult. I've twice had to search out a place to share communal faith. I was raised Catholic and that religion forms the basis of my faith. But I knew in my heart it was not the right path for me.

Between age 21, when I left home, and age 38 when I was saved, I tried on a lot of religious hats and did a lot of searching. I listened to Mormon missionaries in Utah, took spiritual courses with the Baha'i in South Carolina. I attended Baptists churches and a Unitarian Universalist church. But the place I felt most comfortable, most alive and warm and welcome, was a United Methodist Church in Red Bank, S.C., where a co-worker of mine played drums in a Christian rock band. In this place I felt as if I understood the spiritual language there. It made sense to me. It fit.

So when I was looking for a church in Florida, I found myself at Edgewater UMC in Port Charlotte.  Prior to going there, I had never considered a church a "home" or the congregation a "family." But Edgewater - and God's presence there binding us all together - changed that for me. I saw it as a haven, a place of safety, security and protection for my soul and my son's. A place to learn to be something more than I had been and how to live with God at the front of my mind. It was a magical, spiritual place, and I believe God led me there when I needed it the most.

I went to Bible study there, a divorce support group, a parenting group. We ate Thanksgiving dinner at the church two years in a row when we were alone. We forged friendships. Brady and I stood at the front of that church's sanctuary while he was baptized and I officially joined the congregation. It brought tears to my eyes and it remains a treasured memory. It became a part of our weekly routine, a part of our life, a part of the fabric of our little family.

I felt a loss when we moved away, and hoped and prayed to find something just like it.

Well, deep in my heart I knew there was nothing just like it. Our lives, and what we needed spiritually, had changed. But I still wanted to try. The logical choice for a church home was my husband's church, where he grew up going and where his parents still go.

But, I'll tell you honestly, I was SCARED. Scared to be an outsider from Florida in this little town. Scared that my son - who'd been in a separate children's church classroom in Florida and never had to sit in the regular service - would act up. Afraid I'd be that lady with that kid. I feared we wouldn't be accepted or made welcome. It wasn't rational, but that's how I felt.

Plus, Edgewater has a phenomenal Christian rock band, and I so much wanted to find that kind of music again. It had been invigorating and moving to me.

So my husband, bless his sweet heart, agreed to try different churches with me to find one that worked best for our family. We soon found out that most churches in this area do not have a separate children's church. It was apparent we'd just need to teach Brady to sit fairly still and quiet during the service.

We went to a Methodist church 20 miles away, but didn't feel comfortable. We tried a big beautiful Methodist church 30 miles away, but its contemporary service (with the cool music!) was too late for us. The one time we went they were giving away Bibles to all the kids, though, and Brady got one! How neat!

Next we went to a Baptist church twice where a friend went, also 30 miles away, but it wasn't for us. All throughout this process, most of 6 months, I prayed for guidance. Eventually we settled on a very large Bible church, again 30 miles away, with a more contemporary folk band, an early enough service and a very dynamic powerful speaker. We would also see my mom and my husband's son after service since they lived nearby.

We went for several weeks and learned a lot about the Bible. We tried having Brady in their children's class, but by that time he preferred being in service with us. But even this situation wasn't ideal. We often ended up being 10 minutes late, and the rushing around to drive so far was stressful for all of us. It was a very large church and too easy to get lost in. Plus 30 miles was too far to get involved in women's fellowship, Bible studies, Vacation Bible School, and all the church family things we had done in Florida.

Around this same time, Brady was having more trouble at school, day care and on the bus. It was apparent we would have to find summer child care arrangement due to that. I prayed about all of this as well. The answer I seemed to get was, "Well, he's doing well at church services, maybe we should go to church in town for awhile so people can see how well he CAN do, what he is capable of, who he is, and start to see him in a different way than just his problems."

So that's what we did. And let me tell you, it's a beautiful thing to see God work. He led us full circle back to this little church. And it feels just right for our family. When the voices in that small sanctuary blend together to sing the traditional hymns, it's every bit as inspiring and beautiful as the band I missed so much in Florida. And now I would miss that just as much.

And that choice also led to a perfect babysitting situation over the summer. The pastor's very responsible teenage daughter agreed to watch him twice a week (and really the whole family helped), my mom watched him one day and he went to the office with us two days. It was a blessing in disguise, an even better situation for all of us.

This church fits us so well, and it's my hope that each of you have either found a church that feels like a home and family, or that you set off on a journey to find it.

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