Finding a Church Home: What We Looked For, What We Saw, Why We Landed Where We Did

Disclaimer: You may not be at all religious. I don’t care. I don’t know that I am religious in predictable ways, but I do believe that there are no atheists in fox holes. When your boat is sinking you pray for help to come.

I have often written about religious subjects. After I decided to be an architect (6th grade), a lawyer (1st year of college), I decided I wanted to be a pastor. Life intervened with other ideas. But as a disclaimer, I did attend seminary, complete fieldwork in a Pennsylvania parish, fulfill the required Clinical Pastoral Education in a Cleveland area Hospital (even though I didn’t manage to watch the autopsy), and serve an internship at the Lutheran Ministry at Penn State University. I graduated from seminary and was approved by my Bishop and synodical committee for ordination.

As I said, then Life intervened. My husband was working on a Doctorate in Theology. I met with the Lutheran Bishop in New England, and he told me that there was not even a remote chance he could place me in a congregation. I don’t recall the numbers, but he had a large number of New England pastors available for every available vacancy. I was an outsider from Ohio. There was no possibility I even made the list. So everything was put on hold until my husband took a teaching job and we moved to SC. By that time it had been three years since seminary graduation. My church synod gave me a few more extensions.  I got involved doing many other things locally and finally pulled the plug and said I would not pursue ordained ministry. I have never regretted that.

But.  It has sometimes been difficult for me to sit in the pew. My parents were theologically interested people. For 26 or so years I was married to a brilliant theologian and teacher of the church.  Unfortunately, that marriage failed, a sorrow that persists through the years. You can read more about that here: When the River Won’t Flow: Love and Marriage and All That. . .

and here: When The River Won’t Flow: Personal Thoughts on Divorce

My second husband, 18 years my senior, is also an extraordinary man.  I am grateful that he has brought love and laughter back into my life.  And although he is a Navy Veteran and worked in Electronics, he once studied to become a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. When he realized that the Bishop could relocate him anywhere, he decided that he could not risk losing his job and putting his young family, his wife and two young daughters in jeopardy. So he withdrew.

Not long ago I asked for Feedback on Facebook regarding what topics were of interest as potential blog posts. One friend made me a list. The first item on his list was this: “Your search for a church where you could be fed spiritually.”

I started writing this blog years ago, again while hunting a church home.  That time we were searching for a church home in Arizona.  That search took a long time. But we were happy where we landed. That was back in 2014. You can read about that beginning here:  When the River Won’t Flow: The Beginning

Although I have many very close friends and family members who are Roman Catholic – I am still a Reformation Rebel and a Lutheran.  I narrowed my search to two distinct Lutheran church bodies: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and The North American Lutheran Church.  I discovered about six congregations that were within reasonable driving distance.

The search itself didn’t take very long.  The final decision to attend took a bit longer given our bone-weary state of being following our difficult move.

But this is what we did.  I looked at congregational web sites, and we made an initial choice based on those.  Then we visited that congregation. I ruled out all the churches which focused their websites on the extracurricular activities: cozy family events, fun times for the kids, spaghetti suppers.  There is nothing wrong with any of that, but we were looking for a place to be fed spiritually not looking to find a club to join. Some of the larger churches looked as if they had a group for and jobs for everyone in the congregation. I grew up in a large church – about 3000 members – and smaller churches seem a better choice for us.

I looked at web sites and found a church, called Gethsemane.  The picture above is of their chancel one Easter.  Their website talked about their beliefs.  It was remarkable.  They didn’t just talk about their groups, their good works, their choirs, or their outreach; they got to the heart of the matter – what they believed.

Their website had links to the ancient creeds of the church (The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed: http://bookofconcord.org/creeds.php), to the Augsburg Confession http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php), there were simple lists of “what we believe” with those beliefs explained.  It was inviting and substantive, and most assuredly, it was not vacuous fluff.

No person, no church, no pastor, no congregation is perfect. But I would prefer to be imperfect in a church that:• sees worship with the Eucharist as the center of Christian Life

• has worship which moves through the calendar of the church year

• follows the lectionary of Biblical texts which includes readings from The Old & New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John)

• follows a spoken and sung liturgy (derived from the Old and New Testaments)

• has faithful preaching (food to ponder throughout the week)

We belonged to such a church in Arizona.  Now we have found such a church in Ohio.

A delicious benefit to our choice is that we have been warmly welcomed, we have already begun making friends and talking about getting together with different families for meals.  Should you think that a church that pays attention to scripture, theology, and liturgy, which is, according to current standards of modernity, somewhat high church, might be stuffy:  think again!  Because it clings to the words of scripture, to the shape of the liturgy, it can dare to be welcoming, friendly, and take seriously the call to pray for others.

My husband and I still pray for our former pastor and friends at the congregation we left in Arizona. Some of them are still praying for us in our new corner of the world in Ohio. Prayer is central to being people of God.  If you want to take a chance at becoming part of such a family — and raising your children to be part of such a family — remember it starts with Baptism.

I have postponed the publishing of this post until now because tomorrow, May 11,  is the anniversary of my own baptism.  I am so grateful for parents who centered our lives on the Rock of Christ — the Rock on which the church stands.

Thanks be to God!

 

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2 Responses to Finding a Church Home: What We Looked For, What We Saw, Why We Landed Where We Did

  1. Katie Cornelius says:

    Ann, I’m of the same mind when it comes to our church. Never mind that I’m the pastor’s wife. I have been to a gambit of churches. I was raised Catholic and even attended a Catholic elementary school. I was drawn to church because I knew God was there. Although I didn’t understand it, even at eleven years old I would read the Bible in times when I was confused. As a teen I would walk to the Assemblies of God, which was the closest church to where I lived. Directly out of high school I moved to Chicago so I could be apart of what I thought was the best way to live for God. I lived in an inner-city Christian commune for 5 years. Unfortunately the Commune had a standard for Christians based on works. There was an underlying belief that if you weren’t giving up your possessions for the sake of the Gospel, you were a lesser Christian. All the time I was there, I often heard how Christians who didn’t live THIS way were no Christians at all. They had such a superior attitude toward those Christians out in the real world. My question became, did God really have a hierarchy of believes in His kingdom? Because of the views of the Commune it made it difficult to understand what the Lutherans refer to as “Vocation,” which simply means that we are all called to a station in life, and no job is less meaningful then any other. Luther would say there is no varying degree in God’s mind toward a believer who serves as a priest or a milkmaid.
    I met my husband at the Commune. We left to his home town of Marion less than a year after we were married.
    At first we went to churches that some would refer to as Pentecostal. These churches focused on the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Many of these churches practiced the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying. The problem with this is that if a member didn’t have these gifts they were thought of a lesser Christians. Here, I felt uncomfortable. Why would God give some these gifts, and not others? And were these gifts really necessary when it came to reaching people with the Good News of the Gospel? And what about Jesus?! Did His life, death and resurrection mean anything? Was salvation solely about getting those goose-bump feelings as the so-called spirit of God came over you? What these churches emphasized was subjective emotions. This is a very slippery slope for a Christian because emotions come and go, “mostly go” as CS Lewis said.
    For years my husband and I attended a variety of non denominational churches. For a while we attended a Four Square church, where the people were very friendly. They had a mixed bag of teaching, mostly work-oriented, with a dab of Pentecostal. Then we attended a Vineyard Church for several years, which ultimately led us to the ELCA, the church where my husband was raised.
    The Vineyard Church wanted my husband to be a leader, eventually a pastor, which he greatly believed was what God had in mind for him. As he was studying theology to become a better teacher for the Vineyard, he happened across the Reformation. While reading the Church Fathers and Luther, the idea that Salvation is a gift given to us by God through Christ came to him with a resounding clarity never experienced from the teachings of the churches we attended before. He asked, how can 1500 years of church history not matter to Christians today? We left the Vineyard to go to the Lutheran Church where his family attended. By this time, unfortunately, the ELCA, where he was catechized as a boy, had become contaminated by many worldly philosophies. We were shocked when we heard from the pulpit that the Holy Spirit is a “she,” that there was no literally Adam and Eve, that fornication is not in the Bible and that David and Jonathan might have been homosexual.
    This disappointing realization that the Lutheran Church where my husband was raised, had us wondering if there was any real church that believed and taught the true doctrines of the Bible. The doctrines of Grace alone, through faith. The doctrines of Christ alone, not works done by us to earn our salvation. And that’s when God led us to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. At the time my husband had a job which required a lot of driving. On his way he discovered a Lutheran Church, not an ELCA and decided to drop in. Pastor Jerry Moore was more than happy to discuss the doctrines of the LCMS. Often, on the way home, Brett would visit with Pastor Moore. Over time Brett’s desire to become a pastor, as he felt at the Vineyard Church, began to rekindle. The LCMS has a seminary only three hours from Marion. With much prayer and with God’s miraculous hand, Brett was able to attend Fort Wayne Seminary in Indiana. In 2002 he was ordained. He became the pastor of a church he started in Marion with the help of seminary students and lay people, people who also desired for a Lutheran church that believed in the doctrines of the Bible and the Sacraments as properly taught by the Confessional Lutheran Church of Luther’s day.
    I agree with you, Ann. There is no greater joy than to hear God’s Word preached with Christ as the Center. To hear Scripture sung by the pastor to the congregation, and then from the congregation to the pastor from the Liturgy. By this means, God instills in us the beauty and truth of His Word which is not presented in any similar way by any other denomination. God’s Word is what matters most in any church. There are a lot of churches, as I’ve experienced, that want to water down, or add to the pure teaching of the Word and Sacraments by works or emotions, even entertainment and things so worldly they make church into a devils’s house.
    I’m so glad God led me to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and I’m so glad for all the Believers, such as you, who have come to receive the gifts of our Lord, Christ Jesus.

    Like

  2. AECRM says:

    Katie, I thank you for your thoughts but I have trouble with some of what you have written. You speak of being shocked by certain churches which you say have been contaminated by “worldly philosophies.” I am uncomfortable with blanket statements. Churches, like individuals, are all different; even churches within a particular denomination. As to people, all people are created by God. All people have fallen short and need to be redeemed. We are called to love one another.

    “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34

    If those who are searching for the Lord, or those faithful Christians just searching for a church home, see signs proclaiming that this sort or that sort of person isn’t welcomed here — then we have failed to do what the Lord commands.

    Like

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