These are my stories.
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)
Into the desert
We had found what felt like true community and it became church to us. We gathered each week for food and fellowship, prayer and worship, study and discussion. We served food at soup kitchens and carried each other's burdens and it was everything we had imagined church could be.
But then our friends and small group hosts became pregnant with their second child. They chose to step down from leadership for a time. A new leader was brought in. A new host was chosen. A new location was settled on.
And children were no longer welcome.
* * *
Just like that, our community was yanked out from underneath us. We maintained friendships but it wasn't the same as gathering together each week. It had only been a small group, yes, but these people were the only church family we had.
We felt the need for a church home, tried a couple churches, but our heart wasn't in it anymore. We were too hurt, too angry, too confused, too burned out on the typical Sunday expression of church.
We gave up.
Our time in the church desert proved unexpectedly nourishing. We found great peace in our time of "unchurching". Old trappings were shed as we regained our focus. We hadn't turned from God but rather turned more fully towards Him.
What do you want from our lives? How can we bring you glory and blessing? How can we worship you with our whole selves? We'd lost sight of Him amidst all of the church distractions and now we sought instead to find Him where He was, here, everywhere, not bound by four walls or familiar practices, not buried under too much baggage and pain.
I didn't want church. I just wanted God. And He found me there in that desert.
Leaving the desert
It is said that a little child shall lead them, and so it was for us as well.
It had been months since we'd last been to church, when out of the blue he asked it. "Why don't we go to church anymore, Mommy?"
I didn't have an answer for him, but I knew it was time.
And so began our hunt for a church home.
* * *
So many churches. Hours, days, weeks, we browsed websites, read statements of faith, explored, dug, prioritized, what was preference, what was necessary, what could we live with, how could we find our way back into this broken system when we'd found such freedom outside of it? What was "church" supposed to look like, anyway?
But we knew we needed our brothers and sisters. We narrowed our list down to three.
* * *
Church #1 was a Mennonite Brethren church. Familiar to my husband from his own childhood, he felt at home there, while beside him I squirmed uncomfortably. I was the only woman with an unadorned head; I kept wondering whether someone would discreetly drop a tissue over my exposed hair.
There was a time of open sharing - bring a hymn, a verse, a word of encouragement. One young man stood up and told of his time hiking the day prior, told us how very big God is, just so big. I burned in the row behind him, burned to know that he could offer such grandiose insight while I had to remain silent, lacking the proper parts between my legs to afford me the privilege of speaking out.
I didn't even make it through the service. I left, stood outside with the baby and cried, waiting for my husband and older son to join me when the service was over. I could already feel the weight of heavy expectations, extraneous burdens, empty practices, pretense and hypocrisy and everything else I'd witnessed over the years.
I don't want to go back to all of that, God!
* * *
Church #2 was non-denominational. A relatively new church plant, it was far smaller than we had expected. Still, the people were friendly and it seemed like a church we could feel at home in.
Because we desired to attend the entirety of church as a family, we were relieved to find that there was no children's program - but then, there were no children either. There were a few teenagers, polite and engaging young people who played with our children after the service, while the remaining members were adults in various stages and circumstances of life.
We went back, hopeful, the following week. But we still had one more church on our list.
* * *
Church #3 was another non-denominational church plant. We almost didn't go because their calendar hadn't been updated in a couple of months, maybe they weren't meeting anymore, but in the end I phoned anyway because it sounded so perfectly in line with what we were looking for. I was given a time and an address and an open invitation to their next gathering.
We pulled up to the yellow house, nervously entered a stranger's home with our two children in tow. Inside we found seven adults and two small children gathered on couches and chairs. There were introductions all around. After a few more minutes of talk, the meeting began.
* * *
We strapped the boys into their carseats after the gathering ended. "Well?" he asked.
We had found our new church home.
To be continued...