I've tried to analyze what it is about this church that makes me feel welcome, or slightly relieved, when I walk through the doors. I'm not sure that I can completely quantify how I feel, but I'll try.
Lack of politics mentioned in the service/sermon: Neither conservative, nor liberal slants have seemed to surface in the actual services. I'm sure that doesn't mean that the congregants don't have opinions, but they remain just that...opinions held by people attending the church, not opinions held forth as truth from the pulpit.
The service is liturgical, but with contemporary music....which is contemporary while also being simultaneously reverential, as opposed to full-on rock band mode that I've been used to in non-denominational, evangelical churches. This has been good for the kids, because they have known several of the worship songs and it has eased them into this different type of a service.
There is also a lot of singing.
Typical evangelical churches have a strict 3-4 song structure to the service: Welcoming song, announcements, worship song, sermon, closing song. There may be a "special" song thrown in there by a vocalist or group. But, the actual singing by the congregation is frequently broken up, or made difficult by churches using music which is not meant to be sung by large groups of people....making half of the congregation unable to participate because the key is too high. Male, tenor, worship leaders are notorious for this. They pick the songs they like, which show off their range but which also exclude everyone who isn't a tenor or soprano from doing a halfway decent job singing along.
The worship leader at this church has done a good job of picking songs that are meaningful and using them in the appropriate key for congregational singing.
So...right off the bat...the church does several things that appeal to me emotionally. That probably seems superficial, but I don't care. ;-)
Most importantly, I think one of the main reasons I like the church is the way that following a liturgy nips certain practices in the bud. Because communion is the climax of each service, the altar is always reserved for the bread and wine. The worship leader and musicians are off to the side, instead of occupying the space as a stage. There are also no "specials". Everything in the service is directly tied to congregational participation. After the Scripture reading, the congregation replies with "Thanks be to God". After the pastor says "Peace be with you" the congregation says "and also with you." If there is a prayer the congregation responds with an "amen".
The creed is sung together and the Lord's Prayer is sung with the congregation holding hands, and with a nice musical arrangement.
Aesthetically speaking, it appeals to me.
The pastor does brief sermons, but he does them well and is generally a good speaker. His points are always relevant to the text and generally encouraging, even while exhorting people to be more faithful in their relationship with God.
Every time I leave the service, I leave feeling more uplifted than when I went in. Every time I leave the service I have some hope that I will be able to maintain my faith somehow...no matter how bleak my heart might feel before the service.
At this point, I am forcing myself to attend church, hoping against hope that I will find a way forward, while also knowing that there is no returning to certain paths for me. And, at this particular church, "forcing" myself has been easy. I don't feel pressured. I don't feel as if I am surrounded by people waiting to dissect my thoughts and show disapproval.
On the other hand, we haven't made any real effort to dig deeper into the church. I'm not even sure if I am capable of it right now. I can't teach Sunday School as I used to because I can't teach the Bible stories with the credulity that most churches would want. A literary, critical, anthropological approach isn't going to fly with the elementary students...or even most adults.
Being honest that it is easier for me to state the things I don't believe rather than the things I do believe would be another obstacle for me.
Every Sunday in which we attend, we participate in communion, except for our children. Coming from a Baptist background, infant baptism was something we didn't believe in or practice. In this Lutheran church baptism is required to participate in communion, and also a brief class or two is taken by children before their first communion. Our children haven't been baptized and when they walk up with us to receive communion, they instead receive a "blessing", which is a quick prayer said over them. I know the pastor is always perplexed when we show up and tell him to "bless" the children who are much older than the usual first communicants, but we haven't actually spoken with him.
Today, as we approached the altar he reached for the communion wafer and I had to explain that the children weren't baptized. He replied, "Well, we should probably talk about that." He said it with a smile, not in a particularly stern way. I simply answered that it was a long story.
Truthfully DH and I have talked about wanting to speak with the pastor about many things, but we have always been busy or hesitant.
Honestly I am slightly afraid to have the conversation that I need to have. Afraid that revealing all of my doubts will not be met with understanding and compassion, but disapproval and trite answers.
How do I tell a pastor, "I may not believe half of what you do, but I still like coming here."? How do I reveal that I am agnostic about many things of which I used to be so certain, and I am OK with that?
And if this revelation of my inner thoughts is met with rejection...then where do I go?
Most of what I think, I keep to myself. I don't want to disturb the faith of others. I don't desire to cause anyone to go through what I am going through.
I also won't stay at this church, or any other church, under false pretenses. When we have a conversation with the pastor, it will be with brutal honesty from me. If that means that I simply attend and never participate in any leadership position...then that is what it will be. If even that is untenable....then I guess that I will be on my own, though that isn't what I want.