Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In Search of a Tribe

I started this post at the beginning of June and never finished it. Now, my longing for a tribe has only been made more intense.

I have been in a pattern of complete avoidance regarding the church we've been attending for the last couple of years. In the past six months I have probably only been to church about four, or five, times. Working on my father's house almost every weekend kept me out of town and gave me an excuse not to think about it too much.

You see, our family never quite recovered from leaving the church we attended for many years on the heels of some crazy goings on. We hid out in a mega-church for a couple of years, never quite connecting because of the sheer size of the congregation and the fact that our lives and schedules didn't mesh with the opportunities provided; DH worked late and we didn't have extra money to spare for a regular babysitter in order to attend evening small groups.

We settled where we are now simply because we had been looking for a new, smaller church when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There were a few things we liked about the church, but mainly we realized that we needed to settle down somewhere because we weren't up for the emotional ups and downs of church shopping while I was going to have to go through surgeries and chemo.

We managed to get through that year and were just starting to try and get involved when the pastor was changed, apparently at the congregation's request. There were issues that we didn't know much about because we were relatively new and didn't have any idea about the inner workings of the church.

A new pastor was eventually appointed.

The new pastor actually was quite nice. He was older, had better organized and meaningful sermons, and I could tell that he was educated at a high theological/biblical studies level. It turned out he had been a professor at a Methodist University for some time.

I liked him, but then my life got busy and those 6 months of absenteeism took over. I had been planning on trying to talk with him about some things when the announcement came down that he was retiring and a new pastor would be taking his place in a couple of weeks.

This has just thrown me back into a mental limbo with regard to the church. We have no idea what this next guy will be like, and it stinks that this church will be on its third pastor in two years.

Almost five years have passed since things disintegrated at the church we used to love, and we are still just as disconnected and uncertain as ever.

Well...I guess I know what the new guy's like now.

Sunday was the new, new pastor's first day on the job. I'm thinking staying at this church just might be untenable for me. We were already putting up with sub-optimal feelings about staying here, and now I just don't see it working.

The newly appointed pastor has much more enthusiasm than we have seen in the last two pastors, but it seems to be focused in a culture war direction. Besides the God and Country sermon we were treated to on Sunday, we had to hear the typical "America turning away from God" points...because apparently the fact that West Point no longer requires its students to attend chapel is a sign of the coming destruction of the United States.

Actually, mandatory chapel attendance was dropped from West Point in 1973, over 37 years ago. Here I am, in 2010, listening to a preacher quote this fact, minus the date, as if it just happened recently. This is a sign of the culture wars. It doesn't matter that the battle was lost almost 40 years ago. Somehow, it still is relevant to the state of the world and our Christian piety in 2010.

I can't do this. I can't go Sunday after Sunday listening to someone who wants to stir everybody up about irrelevant, outdated facts and use it as a goad to make people "live better" or "transform our country". The worst part about the service wasn't even that the new pastor went this route, but that many of the members were amen-ing him.

The church we attend has two services. An early morning, contemporary service and a traditional service. We attend the early service because we like it better and because we are mostly morning people.

Having two services has stratified the congregation. The contemporary service has lower attendance but is more diverse; young families, older couples, middle-aged couples. The traditional service is twice as large and completely unbalanced demographically. There are no children in the traditional service, mainly because everyone who attends that service is about 60 or older. They are very traditional in every sense of the word.

We've known about this stratification for some time, but we were happy to hang out in the early service .

I realized on Sunday, because the services were combined into one single service, why the first pastor had likely been dismissed. The larger part of the congregation wanted someone like this new pastor. They wanted a culture warrior, a shouter, a guilt-user in leadership over them. I had seen glimpses of this in the church newsletters, which were occasionally filled with the same type of intonation, but I had brushed it aside because there are always people in any given church who you might find disagreeable, or whose opinions you really don't like, but you choose to ignore for the sake of peace, or simply because one person's opinion is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Now, I am seeing that this runs deeper than a few older people who are set in their ways.

DH and I have talked about this endlessly, unsure about what to do. We have stuck around at this church because some of the people are nice and our kids feel very welcome and enjoy attending there. Also, we haven't wanted to jerk the kids around from church to church trying to find something that may not even exist; the perfect church for us.

I, personally, am really struggling with this, partly through my own "fault", though I think the term "fault" is a misnomer. I have spent too much time studying, thinking, and rethinking my faith to be comfortable in a church like this. I can't listen to some yahoo who just makes things up, or slants things in particular ways to suit his own agenda.

What is the point of me going to a church like that?

I shouldn't consistently leave a church stewing and feeling beleaguered.


Anonymous said...

Join the club. A huge portion of church attendance turns over each year. There are so many things to not like.

Too big, or not enough programs, bad preaching, bad music, poor location. The list is endless.

And the people are miserable, always fighting about the silliest things. The only thing worse than not having a church is actually being involved in a church.

It is particularly tough for thinking people, because evangelical churches are infected with politics and non-political places are so non-offensive they have no core beliefs.

Good luck with it, though.


Anonymous said...

Are you looking for feedback or just venting?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous - "It is particularly tough for thinking people, because evangelical churches are infected with politics and non-political places are so non-offensive they have no core beliefs."

Yes, there does seem to be that bitter choice, doesn't there?

I am going to hazard a guess, terri, that you need a radical solution but resent that. Being a decent person who wants worship, community, and a clear understanding of what is Caesar's and what is God's, you just naturally think there must be some ready-made slot where you can move in. It seems unfair of the church - and thus secretly unfair of God - to not have some approximation of that available. I know you aren't looking for a perfect church, so don't read any accusation into my words. I know the feeling from within myself.

So go radical. Go Catholic for a year. Go home church, black church, Quaker, specific mission outreach that also has chapel services. Think of it as cleansing the spiritual palate. You will know up front what major thing you are giving up. The kids will be a little weirded out, but it can be part of their education, too.

terri said...


Anonymous....it depends on your feedback! ;-) If it's something like "stop being such a whiner"....well the voices in my head have already given me that feedback.


I think I do have some resentment....Ok...I know that I have some resentment....but I am not at all clear at whom or at what that resentment is directed.

I am quite confused!

Part of the problem is that I highly value stability. Jumping from place to place, always looking for where I fit, on what seems like some fool's errand.... is anathema to me because it's that kind of emotional vacillation and eternal optimism that "just around the next corner" lies the answer to my problems.

I have staked so much of my identity on being a stable, "wise"(in my own eyes) person, who deals in reality and compromise and trying to ignore extremes and finding a way to peacefully co-exist with people who I know don't think the same way that I do....that to drag my kids all over creation trying to appease this whim and longing that I have, which may have no earthly satisfaction......

Well...it strikes at my core. I'm probably just overcompensating...trying to be the mentoring, guiding, and reliably sane and responsible person for my kids that I never had growing up. So..indulging myself, especially because I don't know what exactly I am looking for, makes me feel guilty and like I'm failing in some way: If I were just more this..or more that, then maybe I would know how to be happy and satisfied wherever I was.

The problem is that I have fed myself that line for many years, making excuses for churches and people and my disconnect with them...and I am just tired of always having to do the heavy lifting, trying to conform myself to communities in which I can't really speak freely without freaking people out, talking over their heads, or feeling like a heretic in their midst.

The part of me that is always thinking and rethinking about God is the part that would be unwelcome in most places....which is really weird sometimes....because I wind up saying more about God in blog conversations than I do in church.

It wasn't always like this, but then again I used to buy into at least 80% of YEC, complementarianism, and biblical inerrancy...and I don't anymore.


I am just rambling on and on now.

Sabio Lantz said...

It was enjoyable to read your honest wrestling -- best wishes