(Union Church – Easton Maine)
Since I’ve only attended seven churches from infancy to this current 55th year, I’d hardly describe myself as a church hopper. But as we have moved further into the “empty nest” phase of our lives, we found ourselves feeling a need for change.
This has not been an easy decision. In the past, when making a change in churches, it conveniently happened to coincide with a decision to move, or my husband’s own experience in pastoring a church. We decided to attend our most recent church in response to our daughters’ choice. We knew it would be the last church we’d attend with them before they left home, and wanted to give them the final decision. They had not had a choice when we moved to “the wilderness” of Pville and they had adapted gracefully to that move. To be honest, I just wanted anonymity for a while. Five and a half years ago, it was their time to choose. They made friends, finally had a bit of a church social life. It was good.
It’s been difficult to choose change for us now – and to try to explain why – when there is no clear “problem” to define. It sort of feels like that confusing breakup line – “it’s not about you, it’s about me.” But it’s really true. We have been on the other side of this decision, though, and it can be hurtful – and that is our regret. As we did not make an announcement about the decision to leave (awkward!), some people don’t seem to realize we’re actually gone. Since we’d been there for 5.5 years, that may be indicative of a problem – but maybe we are the source. When we arrived there, we were content to just be invisible. Eventually, he taught a Sunday School class, I played keyboard, and we were involved on Sunday – but that was about the extent. We are introverts and that may be an area in need of evaluation when we make a final decision in a church home.
As we’ve visited different churches, we continue to process and refine what it is we are looking for and what we are not looking for. Some churches we’ve visited are outside of the denomination we have attended for all of our married life (me since age 14). We are deciding what our negotiables are and what are our non-negotiables. What type of service format, music, teaching, preaching, ministries beyond Sunday, etc. are there? We do not have to be concerned about youth or children’s ministries anymore. That feels strange. Are there cell groups? Opportunities for fellowship beyond Sunday morning service and Sunday classes? What is the leadership style? Big church? Small church?
It is a stretching experience – requiring thinking in directions that I’m not sure I ever have thought before regarding which CHURCH fits. As a child and teen, I was brought to the church of my parents. In my young adult life, it was a continuation of the church of my teens. In Virginia, it was the default denomination – and the only AG church in town. We wanted children’s ministries – and eventually he became the children’s pastor at that church. The kids grew, the youth group was something they enjoyed, the boys moved on – and a few years later we moved north.
When he pastored, it was (not surprisingly) within this same denomination – the one in which he’d received accreditation. When we finished our time there five and a half years ago, it was logical to try a couple of the churches in our new town within this same denomination. The daughters made the final choice – and there we remained until recently.
We are now without a home church and it feels both exciting and unsettling.
I’ve had some people offer suggestions of a specific church to try as they attempt to figure out what it is I/we are looking for. The internet and podcasts and websites have helped to narrow our focus on a few, and as we’ve never been uncommitted to a church – we’ve taken advantage of this time and even gone to a couple of churches that not likely to be a final choice – just because we’ve had the time to do so.
Our search has caused me to realize that how a person fits into a church body is very individual. Listening to people describe what they enjoy or find frustrating in their own church causes me to think of my own needs/desires in church. My search has opened up conversations that do not normally occur with friends and co-workers. Sometimes a church choice is made simply because it is the default church defined by one’s upbringing. It may be a specific type of service or presentation or denomination. Sometimes it will be about doctrine (and which facets are negotiable vs. non-negotiable) and whether one can be used in ministry or remain in fellowship with agreement in specific teachings.
We have not grown cynical regarding church and we definitely have not given up on church attendance as something of value in our faith walk. It provides community, it is a place to grow, it is a place in or through which to minister – and maybe even where we can make a friend or two.