Saturday, August 30, 2008

Church Hunting Update

Church HuntingLast Sunday, my family and I visited another Indianapolis area church in our seemingly endless quest to find a new church closer to home. Prior to moving to Indianapolis, we attended Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute, where we still return on occasion for the eXchange Community Worship led by Pastor Scot Longyear. It's a ninety minute drive to go there, so we have been hoping to find something closer to home.

I have shared most of our experiences here. I never mention the name of a church that we feel we couldn't return to, as I wouldn't want to have any negative impact at all on a church that is truly trying to do the work of God. This week, unfortunately, I won't be sharing the name of the church we visited on Sunday. My wife and I have both determined that we won't be returning there.

When we entered the church and told someone that we were new and looking for where to take our children for the children's worship service, the person who greeted us was very friendly. She found someone to take us back to the children's worship. That person was very friendly and had polite conversation with us the entire way around and behind the sanctuary to the children's worship area on the other side.

We first dropped off our daughter into a room with only two other toddlers in it. There was a sign mandating "No Shoes Beyond This Point" for the children to remove their shoes before entering. We weren't crazy about our daughter having to run around in her stocking feet, but we complied. My wife asked the woman watching over the class at the time if she could show my daughter (whom we've been trying to potty train) where the restroom was and help her go before we left her. The woman directed my wife out of the room and down the hall into the next room, and then explained that they just take them through the back and avoid the hall completely. We both were a bit disappointed that she didn't (1st) offer to take our daughter herself and (2nd) offer to show us the route she would be taking if my daughter needed to go during the service. We were later disappointed when we found the room packed with toddlers and only two adults when we picked our daughter up after the service. My daughter still hadn't been taken to the restroom.

We then took my son to his age group. He has been quite odd lately when we take him to new churches. He has always loved going to church at Maryland, but has been very hesitant about leaving us to attend to worship with other kids his age at the past few churches we've visited. After a few brief moments of coaxing, my son went off to his class.

My wife and I then walked through a door directly into the sanctuary, which of course made us wonder why we had been taken on such a circuitous route earlier when we could have just walked across the sanctuary and through the door.

The sanctuary was a little odd, as it appears that the church has rented a rather large portion of an office building and modified it to suit their needs. There were no pews, which for us is a plus, and no folding chairs, which we encountered recently at another church we visited. The chairs were arranged in typical sanctuary fashion, and we selected our seats near the center in the second row.

Shortly after we were seated, they began setting up three tables in the front of the sanctuary for Communion. They set out two wine glasses on each of two tables, two grape juice glasses on a third, and two baskets of bread on each. We were both immediately concerned that we would once again be partaking of Communion in some modified form of intinction, where you take the bread, dip it in the drink, and take them both together. We have both grown quite accustomed to taking the bread and the juice separately, and feel very uneasy about the modified intinction method. In fact, when the time came for Communion, we both passed on it.

The service started as many of them have at the churches we have visited: with about thirty minutes of worship music preceding the sermon. My wife and I both prefer that the period of worship music follow the sermon rather than precede it. We feel that after the sermon, it's nice to have a time of worship and praise where people can reflect on the message, let God speak to them, and have plenty of time to make a decision. It also allows for Communion to be taken in a more personal manner. It seems that every church we have visited lately has their worship music before the sermon, and based on the constant influx of the congregation, I wonder if the positioning of the worship music isn't to allow everyone ample time to trickle in before the sermon.

The worship band consisted of four women: two singing background vocals, one playing acoustic guitar, and the worship leader on keyboards. They were complemented by a man on electric guitar, a man on drums, and apparently one other man I couldn't see that my wife told me about later. They didn't really move us much into worship. My wife and I agreed in later discussion that we felt that they weren't leading worship, but were rather attempting to perform for the congregation. In fact, the only one of them that I felt actually looked genuine on stage was the young teenager playing acoustic guitar. The others all appeared to me to be trying too hard, and failing.

Before the sermon, two women from the church were brought up onto the stage to tell their story of how they went into some local "gentleman's clubs" to give away free oil changes to the homeless mothers who worked their. It was quite an inspirational story, actually, and I can't possibly do it justice by repeating it here.

We both enjoyed the sermon, with one exception. At one point, the Senior Pastor made the comment that "we worship a God we cannot see." I immediately thought (and took note in my Life Journal) that we do not actually worship a God we can't see. Quite the opposite, in fact, if we just open our eyes. I see God in everything around me: plants, animals, trees -- all the beauty of Creation. I see God in my wonderful kids and beautiful wife. I see God every day in some of the least expected places. And I think we are only unable to see the God we worship if we allow ourselves to be blinded to Him.

It's hard sometimes to relate these experiences here without becoming judgmental of what we've experienced. We look for certain parts of the service to meet certain needs that we have in order to consider going back again. In this case, my son said he had a good time and wanted to go back, but he just didn't seem very enthusiastic about it. I know that my wife and I both were unenthusiastic. In fact, we agreed that we will not be returning to this church.

This weekend, we will be visiting a church that has been recommended to us by an Average Joe reader as well as by our Pastor, Scot Longyear. Hopefully I'll have good things and be able to share the name of the church next week. If you have any suggestions, please let my know via the comment or email links below.

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