Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Here we go again ...

You've probably heard it said that if you find a perfect church, then you shouldn't join it. As soon as you do, it stops being perfect. In In Search of a Church, I had explained how we had decided which church to attend:

When we'd looked at quite a few churches and our radius was extending a bit farther than we'd like, we decided to take stock. We looked at all the churches we'd visited and discussed what we liked and what we didn't like about each one. We eventually settled on a medium-sized (by US standards) church with a contemporary worship style. We chose this church mainly because it was not too far from where we live and because it has a lot of children of Emily and Lauren's ages. We'll have to see how it goes from here.

A Wooden CrossUnfortunately, though, a few weeks of attending that church made us realise that we were not a good fit. This is no reflection on the level of perfection of the church (and I hope that it is not a reflection of our being overly fussy). The way it operates works well for those who have made it their home, but we came to realise that it is not for us.

The church has two services, each just over an hour long. We had initially decided that we could cope with just over an hour. We could go to the later service, so could still have a bit of a lie in on Sunday morning. The church had a lot of children of Emily and Lauren's ages and the girls seemed to enjoy going to the Sunday School.

Our first discovery that I considered problematic was that the Sunday School, it turned out, runs for the entire length of the service. This means that the children don't get to be with us during the service at all. We had already discounted other churches on these grounds because we consider the inclusion of children in a service as very important. I don't mind them not being present for the sermon (after all, I tend to wish that I'm not present for most sermons Smiley Face Emoticon), but I like them to be present during the rest of the service; especially during communion.

Upon enquiring about this, we were told that the way the church works is that everyone goes to both services (starting at 9am). One half of the church go to the first service. Of the other half, most are signed up for adult bible studies, children's Sunday School, and the remainder are signed up to do "serving" -- taking Sunday School, ushering etcetera. At the later service time, they all swap, so that the bible-studiers and servers attend the service.

Our choices were:
  1. Do our own thing regardless of how the church is set up (ie. just go to one service, let the children join us in the service, then let the children go to Sunday School during the sermon). This was obviously a far from ideal solution.

  2. Get stuck in fully and embrace the way that the church is set up. The problem was that this demanded a lot more from us than we are willing to give.

  3. Find another church -- one that better suits our needs.
Furthermore, a regular attender was kind enough to explain to us how the church's "small groups" work.

A ChurchSmall groups are a means by which large churches keep a personal touch. Many churches here have them. As everyone can't know each other, fellowship with other Christians on a personal level in large churches is achieved by splitting the church into smaller groups that meet regularly. In essence, I dare say that this is fair enough (even if it does require an evening per fortnight of our time, it is a good way of meeting and getting to know people). When we first attended the church we were told that many people brought their children to their small group meetings. I'm all for the inclusion of children in church activities and it would save us having to get a babysitter or alternate who goes (which would default to being me going every time).

However, the more the man explained, the more we realised that Small Groups were not for us. It turned out that about once a fortnight the families go to these small groups only to be split into separate "bible studies" -- one for the men, one for the women and one for the children. Under this model, I'd only be getting to know the women in the church and even then only in a "bible studying" scenario. In addition, this sort of setup could, if a church is not careful, serve to propagate conservative Christian sexual stereotypes -- just the sort of thing that we try to steer clear of.

Although we decided to move on, it was not a wasted experience. It helped us to consider more closely what is important to us and what compromises we are or are not willing to make:
  • We don't want inordinately long services and we especially don't want long sermons. I don't believe that God distributes His love or anything else in proportion to the length of my attention span (if he does, then there's little hope for me).

  • We don't want to go to a church where we will be inadvertently sucked into having to attend endless church-based activities. We want to the freedom to be able to decide how involved we want to be, without any pressure.

  • Wine and BreadWe want a church where the children are included into the service, especially during the singing and communion. We would like any Sunday School classes to be held during the sermon, not at a separate time. Some churches offer children a blessing during communion. Although this is better than nothing, I believe in allowing children to partake in communion as soon as they are old enough to eat a bit of bread (or wafer) and sip from a cup. I am willing to compromise in this because I am aware that there are few, if any, churches that hold this view. However, I think that it is a minimum requirement that the children are at least present during communion.
We are not looking for a "perfect church", just one where that is a good fit for us. So, all things considered, as far as the search for a church is concerned, here we go again...


jacqui said...

Good luck in your search but I fear you are on to a loser.

Viola said...

Perhaps, but we need to try and get what we want. If after that we have to make compromises, then so be it, but we're not ready to give up yet.

crystal said...

I guess you aren't catholic? Children stay with the adults :-)

Anonymous said...

Sgt D, now know as "Q", says...
Crystal's on the right track you know, after all, once a Catholic...

There's a lot to be said for a parish church, with a universal ministry to the whole parish, regardless of attendance at services. Your church sounds like it is run by Ned Flanders and the Rev Lovejoy, but an old Tory like me thinks that this is the trouble with the dissenting conventicle side of protestantism (well, there are lots more troubles too, but I will stick to the practical aspects). They're only interested in preaching to the converted, and I am sure you'll remember lots of my old commemts on this matter, most recently after speaking to a very smug and pi Pastor (his job description) at a wedding last year.

So, at least the Roman Catholics have a universal parochial system, as do the established churches in England and Scotland, where the Priest or Minister has a duty to all of the parishoners. Maybe, where you are, the Anglicans do too, although they seem a bit woolly on most things. (Thing is, I bet all American churches are keen to lock you into their networks, and then to drag you into their fundraising. Familiar with "United Way" yet? Tithing, that is, a real tenth?)

So, good luck with this, and I suppose the great thing about being dissenters, is that you can always have another schism and set up your own church! It might even work.

Pip! pip!

SinnaLuvva said...

I hope your search proves fruitful, your 'requirements' seem so reasonable.

A church should be an institution that refreshes and supports you in leading a Christian life, not something to drain your resources.

Legal Alien said...

Have you tried a United Church of Christ congregation? We've been attending one in southern Wisconsin since we moved here last year, and we're very pleased.

There are two separate hour-long services, each with a different flavor. The first is a more traditional, adults-only service. The second usually begins with singing led by the youth group praise band. The pastor has a short, interactive kids' sermon, and then dismisses the children for Sunday school. (Which means they aren't around for communion, though.) The adults and teens stay for the rest of the service.

One caveat: UCC churches are notoriously individualistic, so our specific experience may not reflect what you'd find at the congregation nearest you.

Viola said...

Thanks everyone for all your advice.

Crystal -- I wouldn't mind the children staying with us throughout the service. I suppose that children can sit through short sermons (as Catholic/Anglican ones tend to be).

Sgt D -- I think that the established churches have a lot to be said for them and I dare say that we're likely to be veering ourselves in that general direction. I hadn't yet come across United Way, so looked them up -- they seem to be an organisation that provides a management structure for charities. I'll have to read a bit more before I can sound knowledgable on this. As a general rule of thumb, though, anyone who goes on too much about "tithing" sets off the warning claxons.

Sinnaluvva -- thanks for the encouragement.

Pat -- There is no United Church of Christ near us, although there is one that is about a 40 minute drive away. We have one Church of Christ near us that worships a cappella (I'm not sure if it's the same denomination as UCC). We are thinking of trying it out. Although I'm not too keen on the idea of a cappella worship (and neither will the rest of the congregation be, once they've heard me), if everything else is OK, perhaps it's a compromise that I can live with.

crystal said...

Viola, about the United Church of Christ ... I visit a blog by a UCC seminarian that's very good - you might pick up some hints about the church there ... Chuck Currie's blog

Stan Jones said...

I noticed that "the Americanization Of Emily" is not on your fav list. Have you seen it? I'm sure you must have. what do you think?

Michael said...

Good luck with the Church of Christ. That's been my life over the past 14 years. I hear the Cole Mill Rd COC is a nice place, but I'm not sure how their services are structured. Tell Mark their pastor is a Yale guy and that might interest him a little :-).

Viola said...

I'm afraid I just knocked together my fav list off the top of my head in about 10 minutes. I like the film, The Americanisation of Emily -- it's funny and original, so I don't really have a good reason for not putting it on my favs list.

I named this blog after the film, not so much because it's one of my favourite films as because the title seemed appropriate.

Here's my blog entry about the film:
The Americanization of Emily

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