Chad and I are in search of a church community. It’s been almost a year since our small church community disbanded, and we’re finally feeling strong enough to start looking for something new. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of opinions, and that’s good and bad. We know we want a small church that focuses on building relationships among the members and serving the community at large. We want something that feels real and meaningful. We’re open to exploring different churches, with different styles of worship and sermon. So knowing what we want is good and being open to a variety of denominations is helpful. But we are also critical of the church at this point in our lives, having recently felt stung by our last church. We’re also a little hesitant about anything that feels too similar to the evangelical church we just left because the hurt and the loss are still raw, even a year later.
But we’ve gone to a couple new churches recently and we’re trying very hard to be open-minded and not too critical. I can’t imagine there’s a “perfect” church out there for us, so we have to remember that every detail isn’t always going to fit what we’re looking for. I also struggle with the idea of “church shopping,” or looking for a church to fit my needs. I want to make sure when we choose a church, we’re not choosing it because it’s comfortable or easy or makes us feel good, but because we can be part of the community, serve in meaningful ways, and feel the real presence of God. So we’re trying, and it’s hard, and intimidating, and important, and I’m going to write about it.
The first church we’ve tried so far was a Mennonite church in a neighboring town. Chad and I attended a Christian college that was founded on Anabaptist principles, so we’re a little familiar with the Mennonite traditions. When we were studying abroad in France, Chad also attended a Mennonite church there, so we have ties to this denomination that feel almost nostalgic. I am also very attracted to their focus on peace and pacifism. (I’m making peace the theme of my life right now– making peace and resting and healing and reconciling.)
So this Mennonite church was a good first step. It was small, only about 30 people. We happened to come on a Sunday when the sound system was broken, so the worship was a cappella from hymnals. It was also a baptism Sunday, so four members of the church spoke about their experiences before a short sermon from the pastor. At the end of the service, we began singing a hymn and proceeded outside to a blow-up pool where those four people were baptized. Blow-up pools aside, there was something so simple and beautiful, but also strange to me, about singing the hymns without music, about sitting in the wooden pews in the small sanctuary next to friendly strangers, about walking from the sanctuary outside to the parking lot while singing out loud in unison.
I don’t know yet if we’ll go back, but overall, this church was a great first experience. We were nervous of course, walking into a new place and meeting new people, but the pastor and the members were friendly and welcoming. Many of them introduced themselves and the pastor gave us his cell phone number in case we had questions. The congregation was very diverse, much more diverse than any church I think I’ve been to, with a variety of ages, races, ethnicities, family types. That challenges me because when I feel fragile, as I do attending church right now, I seek out the familiar and the comfortable, people who resemble me. But it was a perfect reminder to me that God doesn’t want us to stay comfortable, and stay with people we can immediately identify with. He wants us to reach out and share what we have– thoughts, skills, knowledge, materials, prayers– because what I have is different from everyone else has, and together we are whole. Together we are whole.