Last Sunday we attended a United Church of Christ service in the next town over. It was a beautiful building tucked on the shore of a lake. We were welcomed at the door by a deacon. I am always impressed when the person at the door knows we’re visitors. I’m sure sometimes we give ourselves away with the uncertain, hesitant way we walk in, but more often during our visits I’ve felt like they just know we’re new because they don’t know our faces. And I like that. I like that when there’s someone new, they aren’t lost in the crowd, they’re noticed and acknowledged. Because I want to be part of a community, so I want to be known and missed and seen, and I want those around me to feel the same way.
The sanctuary was so bright and open and wide. It was big, but everything, and everyone felt close. The children sang a song about a donkey for Palm Sunday, waving their palm fronds so enthusiastically that they smacked their friends with them accidentally. During one of the choir songs, the kids processed up the center aisle and back with their fronds waving high in the air.
According to the United Church of Christ Web site, “Since 1957, the United Church of Christ has been the church of firsts, weaving God’s message of hope and extravagant welcome with action for justice and peace. Together, we live out our faith in ways that effect change in our communities. The UCC’s many ‘firsts’ mean that we have inherited a tradition of acting upon the demands of our faith. When we read in Galatians: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’—a demand is made upon us. And so we were the first historically white denomination to ordain an African-American, the first to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man, and the first Christian church to affirm the right of same-gender couples to marry. We were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil Rights movement.”
I love the language of justice and inclusion and peace. Those are words that I hope define my faith, so I was attracted to this church. And there definitely was something about the language that felt a little different to us. Chad said it felt ‘new age’ and I agreed a little bit. It felt like they approached Christianity a little bit differently than other churches we’ve visited. And it’s hard to explain because nothing that was said was in conflict with what we believe or have heard before, it was just a little different, with maybe more emphasis on the individual’s own spiritual journey.
The pastor is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and I felt her sermon was more academic than many I’d heard. She spoke about Jesus entering Jerusalem– exactly the topic you expect to hear on Palm Sunday– and weaved in historical details, while also relating the message to current events. I felt like I could have heard a pin drop while she was speaking, it was so quiet in the sanctuary. Afterward we were invited to their church luncheon, but decided not to stay.
Chad and I talked about our visits and he said he hasn’t felt like he’s really liked one more than any other, he hasn’t felt sure about where we should go, and I agree. Sure, there have been some we felt more at home in than others, but one doesn’t really stand out among the rest. Of course, we keep reminding ourselves that one visit isn’t really a valid way to judge a church, but we also can’t keep visiting forever and can’t go back to each one we’ve been to for a second shot. But I think community is built not found, so we’re not necessarily going to feel at home right away, no matter which church we choose. In the beginning of our search, we had a plan to visit all the churches in our hometown, so it was just a matter of picking one each week. And we did that. There were a couple others in neighboring towns that we’d heard about or read about, so we’ve visited those, too. So we’re close now to the end of the search. It’s time to invest ourselves in one place.
But like I wrote last time, I can still feel a part of me that isn’t ready yet, that is purposefully taking that long road back. In some ways, I think our search has been a way to put off the hard work of actually building that community, of letting people in. There’s still that voice inside me that says, the church hurt you last time– you invested, you got comfortable, you laid your heart open and then the floor gave way… and moving on feels like admitting I’ve recovered, but that’s not true. I’m not sure I have. So while we’re running out churches to visit in our area, taking the next step and choosing one, just seems so hard…