Sunday, July 19, 2009

Visitor Gifts

Here is an interesting list of the various gifts we have been given at the churches we have visited:
Bottled water with church logo
Gift certificate to local restaurant
Gift certificate to the church's coffee shop
Microwavable popcorn "Thanks for popping in!" (2 churches)
Water bottle with church logo
Chip Clip with church logo
Pen with church logo
Squeezy coin holder with church logo
Pencil with church logo
Cup with church logo
Keychain with church logo
Large flashlight with church logo
I think that's it for now...

Let the Journey begin!

I have good news for you, my curious, blog reading, friends!! I don't even know where to start or what to say! I guess I'll start at the beginning of it all!

Between our house and the first store that Chris opened up here is a church. It doesn't look like a church. The sign out front is modern and eye-catching, but the building is not a typical church building, it's rather bland and well....not very exciting. I thought it looked interesting, but I didn't have any desire to visit.

After visiting a lot of churches that, on the outside, looked like churches that I would want to be a part of, I decided to see what Chris thought of this church that looked different. We were both up for a change. What we thought we wanted and would work for our family, was not working. Let's do it.

When we showed up, there were 5 vehicles in the lot. That scared me a little because I knew we would be singled out. I was dreading being asked to raise my hand during announcements so that I could feel like an outsider and an intruder. I wasn't scared for very long.

On the way in, a couple was going in at the same time. They knew we were visitors and warmly welcomed us. The greeter at the door warmly welcomed us and told us about where to go and a little of what to expect.

We walked in and was intrigued. It was a basic room with rectangle tables that had chairs behind them facing the altar area and podium. On each table was a long sheet of white paper for doodling, or whatever. There was a black binder with church info, an attendance sheet, offering envelopes, and sticky name tags. There was a small bin with colored pencils, play doh, crayons, paper, pen, denominational info, and maybe some other stuff. There were also 3 Bibles in a stack. 2 regular NIV's and 1 Adventure Bible for children. We were welcomed warmly by everyone we came in contact with! "Hi, is this your first time here? Please, make yourselves at home! Your kids are so cute! What are your names? Here, choose a table! You and your kids are welcome to use anything on the table during the service. Oh, and help yourselves at any time to the snacks and drinks at the back table." This is just a sampling of the helpfulness that these people offered. People told us about the service, about the kids' program, about their various activities, about....well, all kinds of stuff! The mom behind us offered to show me the kid's classroom and to take them there.

Can you tell that I was impressed?

The pastor was young, funny, friendly, and welcoming. He told me that the kids could stay in the service. He said that they encourage families to worship together. I like it. My kids loved worship. There was a time for teaching that split us up from the kids. This was not the message. It was kind of like Sunday School in the middle of worship. The children's rooms were the most impressive that I have ever seen in a church-and this was in a building that is anything but impressive from the outside.

During the service, the pastor was very clear about what was coming next, where to find things, what the black binder was for, where the bathrooms were, etc, etc. He even said that the Bibles were there to use if we needed them and to take one home if we wanted to. He did this from the podium and did it in a way that would make anyone feel comfortable. He never said "I see we have some first time guests! Please stand up so that we can stare at you. By the way, since you are not Christians, that book in front of you is a Bible and we'll be saying the Lord's Prayer. That's L-O-R-D...." Just kidding. The previous churches were never that bad, but they might as well have been.

Chris and I loved the service. We honestly don't have any complaints! He was so worried that I wouldn't agree theologically with the pastor's message and that I wouldn't want to return to the church. But, this church, even though it is non-traditional, is a part of a denomination that I respect. I would like to learn more about the denomination this week and try the church out again next week.

The hospitality at this church was above and beyond anything I could expect. After worship we were invited by several people to attend their family event this coming Friday. I actually really want to go! I hope that we can. I want to spend more time fellowshipping with these people who treated me like a friend.

Now, I suppose it's time for us to get to know this church better. Let the journey begin!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Search Goes On... (7/12/09)

Today, my family and I visited a church that was recommended to us by 2 people. I have been meeting some other young moms in the area. One of them told me it was a good church, the other one actually goes there. The mom who goes there said that she and her husband chose the church because it seemed like a good place to raise their daughter. That seemed like a good reason to me!
I checked out the website and it seemed fairly impressive. The upcoming VBS, fair, and children’s art day camps all looked exciting. I actually marked VBS and the fair on my calendar because I thought that this just might be the church for us. Young, happening, denominationally-correct.
The website listed two worship services. I decided that I would e-mail the church office asking which service was best for a young family. The response I got was welcoming and enthusiastic. They not only explained the services, but promoted the upcoming VBS. Awesome!
Well, we arrived at church this morning and parked in the back. The church had a backyard with a shelter house, picnic tables, and a playground. That looked promising! There were even children playing on the playground. We followed people into the church and found our way to the narthex. We were not greeted or directed until a lady looked at me and pointed at the toddler room. All she said was “Right here.” I said “Thank you!”  We were warmly greeted in the toddler room by the teacher and also by the nice lady who had replied to my e-mail. The e-mailer offered to show us around the church after worship. The toddler room experience was a positive one except for the fact that there was absolutely no security or sign-in process. How could a church that advertised it self in such a family friendly way not have tighter security in the child care? Call us bad parents, but we left our kids in there anyways.
On to worship. I thought that the sanctuary and congregation would be much larger. No a/c and Chris had worn long pants, a long sleeved shirt and a tie. I felt so sorry for him, but he didn’t complain. The congregation had a mix of ages. From young families to “white hairs”, they were all represented. All looked good until the prelude started. Oh noooo, how could this young, hip looking gal sitting behind the organ play such boring elevator music? This was the point at which I became concerned for this church. The rest of the service reflected the prelude. Traditional outline or worship which lacked energy. I know that a traditional worship service can be energetic and inspirational, even without guitars and a praise band. Our church that we have just come from provided an awesome traditional worship experience every Sunday! I have to consider that there was a guest pastor today. However, the sermon wasn’t the bad part. I was able to directly apply his message to my life and he spoke with energy and enthusiasm. The sermon was the best part of the service. What was the worst part? The worst part was definitely when we were asked to raise our hands as first time visitors again. This is absolutely humiliating!!!!! We were brought gifts. Red gift bags including an information brochure, a pen with the church name, one of those plastic, squeezy coin holders with the church name, and a package of microwavable popcorn with the logo “Thanks for popping in!” I wanted to crawl under my pew and then keep crawling right on out the door.
When worship was over, we were greeted by some of the older ladies of the church, all of which said “We hope you come back next week.” We replied “Thank you.” The guest pastor was friendly and said he hoped we’d come back next week. We said “Thank you.” I found my mom friend as she came down from the balcony with her husband and baby girl. We chatted briefly and then parted ways. Lilly and David were safe and sound in the toddler room. From there, we headed right out the door and to the van.
Unfortunately, we did not find our church home today. On the way home, I thought “What exactly am I looking for in a church and why haven’t I found it?” Here is what I came up with: Basically, I want to find a church where Chris, the kids, and I can all experience and grow closer to God. We do not simply want to go to a church that has good children’s activities or welcoming greeters. I’d really love to find a church where the congregation and the worship leaders are obviously passionate about worship and overjoyed to share their church home with others. I’m tired of services that are made up of announcements, stand up, sit down, read this, sing this, sit and listen, shake a hand, go home. Tell me about God’s amazing work in your life. Tell me about God’s amazing work in this community and church! Help me find a quiet place of connection with God and a joyous place of praise to my Creator, shared with other dedicated believers. I want to make a connection with people and with God.
The search goes on.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Outsiders

Well, first of all, I am so sorry that I haven't yet blogged on our church visit from 2 Sundays ago. I am beginning to feel a little sick of this whole process and didn't want to think about it. I still feel that way, but am sharing with you anyways. After discussions with my mom, maybe some of what I have to say can be beneficial to someone.
Ok, here goes.
June 28, 2009 Church Visit
Chris and I decided that we wanted to go to the beach, so he found a UMC that was on the way. It was one that I had been wanting to check out. The website looked fantastic. They got an A+ in theology. They promised to be welcoming to visitors and to people of all different lifestyles. Let's go! Well, they did seem very friendly. On the way into the church, a man about 40 years older than us stopped us and said "I don't think I have met you! What are your names?" We introduced ourselves and said that we are new to the area. He said that he is new to the church and still meeting people. This explains to me why he was friendly. People who have recently been new to a church seem to know what it's like to be new! Of course! When we walked in the doors, there was a family with 2 teenagers standing there as greeters. The man who initially greeted us introduced us to the family and explained that we are new to the area. They were very nice.
We found the nursery and dropped off the kids. The church had a pager system for the kids which I thought was great. The kids were happy to go play. On to the sanctuary!
As we headed for the sanctuary, I walked past and looked in the eye of a woman who was obviously the pastor. She didn't acknowledge me. I thought that was very strange and it actually ticked me off. (I forgot to not be judgemental) The doors we had gone in took us in the front of the sanctuary. That was a little frightening, but I got over it and we found our seats. Very pretty sanctuary-it looked Presbyterian with it's clear windows and white paint. We got comfortable and guess who came to sit right next to us!! The greeter family!! The wife sat next to me. I thought that if this wasn't intentional, then it should be! (Churches could have a family designated to welcome new families. They then find the family and sit with them. Then, if wife is on the end, then the greeter wife sits by her. If husband is on the end, then greeter husband sits by him. Or, whatever the genders might be.) Anyways, the wife was very friendly and chatted with me here and there. The service was traditional and the pastor was boring. Sorry, but she was. It was United Methodist Women recognition Sunday. Wooohooooo!!! The pastor said that the UMW do the hardest work and she also referred to them as WhiteHairs, which I thought was offensive. Also offensive was when she said something like "I know that you all make fun of those white hairs in the basement, but they do important work." Okaaay? When I found out this pastor was a guest pastor (this explains why she didn't greet me-don't judge!), I thought that her words were even more offensive. I felt bad for the whitehairs as well as the other ministries that were being compared to them. She talked about the bad girls of the Bible without mentioning the book and said that the UMW are those girls. In her closing words she told us all to be bad girls, even the men. Chris and I thought that was really funny. Oh, and by the way, he fell asleep again.
It is hard to judge a church when the pastor is a guest, but we felt like this was not the church for us for a couple of reasons. There didn't seem to be any type of alternative worship styles. This is important to us so that Chris, and occasionally I, can have a way to express ourselves musically in worship in contemporary ways. Also, the congregation seemed to be a couple of decades ahead of us in life. The population of 20-30 somethings was not impressive.
The greeter wife was sure to get me a gift that they give all guests. I thought that was nice. A brown paper gift bag decorated by children had lots of church info as well as microwavable popcorn, a chip clip and a water bottle, all with the church logo on them. We used the water bottle at the beach because we forgot beach toys.
Ok, so on to July 5, 2009!
I am writing in brown because that seems to be an appropriate color for the blandness of this experience. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!!!! It was just depressing. This church was recommended to us by 2 people. I think maybe it has taken a down turn. I am absolutely not kidding you when I say that it felt like I was in a chapel service at a retirement home. I don't know if I should say anything else. Oh wait, I should. This was the WORST-they asked if there were any first time visitors and told us to raise our hands. OH MY GOSH! We raised our hands and they gave us Bibles as if we were pagans. Maybe not their intended message, but it's how we felt. It was so embarrasing. I don't want to say anything else. We are not going back there.

So, Chris and I are feeling defeated in the church hunt. We both really liked the church where we got hugs from Robbie, but it is 20-30 minutes away. We will visit there again to see if we actually like it, for real. Like, enough for it to be worth the drive 1-2 times a week. But, we plan to start visiting some churches out of our home denomination in a week or 2. This is sad to me.
I may email the local District Superintendent's office and see if they have an recommendations. We'll see.
Oh, also, 2 weekends ago, I finally felt what it was like to not be connected to a church and to just not want to go anywhere. It would be very easy to fall out of the habit of church in a situation like ours. I understand better what it is like for other people. This is tough, but we will keep with it.