Sunday, June 22, 2008

Church Shopping -- So To Speak

This isn't a review, though it will probably sound like one by the time I'm done with it. It isn't a review because I don't think it would be proper for me to "review" a church. After all, if they're doing the work of the Lord, who am I to judge the way in which they do it?

What it is, however, is my story of our latest endeavor to find a church we can call home in Indianapolis. My family and I moved from Terre Haute, Indiana, at the end of December. In the months preceding our move, my wife was Baptized at Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute, and we both had begun to feel quite convicted about becoming more involved and solidifying our walk with God. Then we moved.

Since our move, we have driven back to Terre Haute most Sundays to attend church and visit with my wife's parents. With gas surpassing the $4 a gallon mark, we decided that maybe it was time to cut back to making the trip every other week and finding another church home in Indianapolis. Today, we visited our second new church in Indy.

I won't say the name of the church here because, as I've said, it is not my position to judge the service or the participants. I only want to share my experience, and my frustration with the difficulty of finding a church home where we truly feel at home.

So we went to [name of church withheld] this morning, which is only about 20 or 25 minutes from home, so the drive was nice -- much shorter than the trip to Terre Haute. At first, it was overwhelming. They have services at 8am, 9:30 and 11am. This means that when you're going in for either the second or third service, the attendees of the prior service are on their way out at the same time. This is chaos. And being that it was our first time at a new church, we didn't quite know where to go. Having people going in all directions just added to the confusion.

We made our way into the church and found a sign that said “NURSERY.” Needing to drop the kids off at the children's ministry, we stopped at the Nursery desk. “We've never been here before,” I said. The response was far from enthusiastic. At first, there seemed to be no response. My wife looked at me and smiled out of discomfort with the situation. Finally, the woman at the desk began to ask the ages of our children and told us what to do and where they were to be taken. We signed our daughter in, dropped her off and picked up a pager that would go off if they needed us for some reason.

We then took our son to the Preschool desk. There was no one at this desk at all, so we entered the room behind the desk and went to a table that had preprinted names of children who are obviously regular attendees. A man came out and we told him we had never been there before. He was a little nicer than the first and asked how old our son was. When we told him, he directed us across the room to another table, where we went through a ritual similar to that we had been through when we dropped our daughter off. These people were a little nicer than the first.

Then we headed into the sanctuary. People were milling about everywhere, and the sanctuary seemed to be about half empty. At first I thought maybe we had chosen the least attended service of the three. We found a pew (yes, a pew -- we've become accustomed to the theater style seating in our regular church in Terre Haute) toward the rear and took our seats as a countdown timer on the screens ticked down to the start of the service.

Thirty seconds before the timer expired, five people came out onto the stage, accompanied by various instrumentalists donning their respective equipment. The five people were all vocalists. As the five vocalists and the instrumentalists that made up the "Worship Band" begun playing, people began flooding into the sanctuary and taking seats. We assumed that the woman in the center of the five vocalists was the Worship Leader. We turned out to be correct, unfortunately. Every church has one, and she was the one at [name of church withheld] -- the overbearing woman who thinks she has to sing louder, longer, and higher than everyone else so that her voice can be heard above the masses. Of the five vocalists, we never even heard the voices of the two men, though they had microphones in their hands that they appeared to be singing into.

Communion was odd, though the Pastor did say they were going to do it a little differently today. They passed the bread and cup and asked everyone to hold it and take it all together, which we then did silently – presumably because the Pastor had seen the same thing done in the past week in an Uzbeki underground church. Nothing wrong with that, just different from what we've become accustomed to.

After some singing and Communion and offering, the Pastor began his sermon. He spoke about Abraham and how he had obeyed God's command to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him. I actually enjoyed the sermon, and thought that the Pastor did a very good job of relating it on a level that everyone should be able to understand.

After the sermon, the “Worship Band” returned to the stage and began singing – more of the same. At the same time, some people were Baptized. That was an unusual situation, because the only way you could observe the Baptism was to watch it on the big screens. The name(s) of those being Baptized were displayed on the screen, and the silent image of them confessing their faith and being Baptized was displayed. Unless, of course, you crowded around the Baptismal, as many seemed to do, to get a closer look. That, to me, seemed weird. Also, it seemed weird that the act of Baptizing these individuals seemed to be second in importance to the high vibrato wailing of the worship leader and her band.

When it was all over, we picked up the kids and returned to the car. On the trip home, we asked our son if he thought he would want to go back. He said, “No.” Later when asked again, he said the same. I guess it just wasn't the same for any of us as we're used to at Maryland. Why does it have to be so difficult to find a church that feels like home?

We would really love to find something closer to Indy for those Sundays when we don't make the drive to Terre Haute. While I would be okay returning to today's visited church on occasion, if my son -- who really enjoys church -- isn't interested in returning there, we probably won't. We're a family, and while I, as the father, am the spiritual leader of the family, what kind of leader would I be if I forced my family to attend a church where they didn't feel comfortable.

If you have any suggestions, or would like to invite us to visit your church, please let me know. I may mention the experience here, but I would never identify the church, unless the experience was such a moving and inspirational one that I felt the need to share it.


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