Church Hunting (3): The Places We Land

We didn’t so much choose our church as crash into it. We were an airplane with a burning wing, damaged, making an emergency landing at the first wide open place we could see.

Our criteria for a church was simply this: must be close to home and must have small groups, because what had damaged us in the first place was loneliness, and we needed friendship like we needed water.

The irony, of course, is not lost on me: after two years of me railing against those evangelicals over margaritas and tortilla chips, we landed somehow at the most evangelical of community churches: Electric guitars and raised hands. Rick Warren Bible studies and Beth Moore videos. Seven-layer-salads and seven layers of Greeters and Christian catchphrases scattered like confetti.

Our church is big where I crave small, fluorescent where I want candles, loud with popular praise choruses where I want hymns, acoustic guitars, silence.

But sometimes, you just crash, and you don’t get to choose how it happens. Your life is unexpectedly grounded, and you think it’s because you’re hurt or because you’re just tired. But really, it’s because God has something to say to you here, in this place where you never thought you’d end up.

It’s like this: in my angry, cynical days, I called them The Church People. I saw them orbiting around their programs, high above the earthy, dirt-caked issues of us who were struggling. I separated myself from them using this language, feeling righteous in my own white-hot pain.

At one point or another, they had failed to see me, so I chose not to see them either. At least not individually. I grouped them, judged them, moved to the other side of the road.

But then we crashed, and we were among them. Weeks went by. They began to emerge, individuals with their own distinct personalities and ideas and smiles. I began to learn their names.

There was the woman who spent long winter nights in a trailer packed with clothes, handing things to the homeless. There was that other one who hates to speak in front of people but did it every Tuesday night anyway for the faithful women of the Beth Moore Bible study.

There was that group of men that invited my husband into their morning meetings, who weren’t perfect, but who wanted to be better. When he lost his job unexpectedly, they reached into worn, brown wallets and pulled out More Than Enough.

There was that first little pod of couples that became our friends, listened to our stories, brought over pizza, helped us move forward.

I don’t mean to simplify what is complicated. Certainly there is still ache. There is longing for the things that are absent from this church, the things that our souls also need. I am not saying that we will stay here forever or even that we should.

What I am trying to say is that I’ve learned they, too, are part of me. We can leave a church, join another, but they will always be Our People…because they are His People.

We express our faith in different ways. We find meaning and beauty in rituals or in the stripping away of rituals, in anecdotes or in poetry, in loud worship or in silence. Some places feel like home; some places feel less so.

In the end, we belong to each other and we belong to God, and this is what it means to be a family.

It’s all still a little blurry for me. I believe in the mysterious beauty of Capital-“C”-Church. I am still not sure what that looks like shrunk down, jammed into a Sunday morning. I believe there is grace for the wanderer; I believe that sometimes we crash and it is exactly where we should be. I believe that sometimes we need to move on.

For now, we are here.

Now the junior high girl is at the door of the nursery, waiting for my son, Liam, who is her favorite.

36 thoughts on “Church Hunting (3): The Places We Land

  1. I love this series as it is speaking to me. We are in the process of “trying on” new churches, while I am torn because I crave our familiar prior church. It is sooo difficult when the family is conflicted over the decision to move or not to move. But your posts make me shake my head in agreement and smile. Which is just what I need today. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Lori. I’m so glad that it’s meant something to you. I hope you find a place that speaks to your soul.

  2. Addie, thank you for “simplifying it.” We make things of faith and life all too complicated sometimes. In the end we human beings, churched or unchurched, young or old, man or woman all share two things in common… we are broken and we need each other. People are worth being patient with, sacrificing for, opening up to, and living life with, even at their worst. The local church is exactly that… a group of broken, hurting, hurtful, messed up people trying to figure out life and faith. What makes it great is when they agree its better to do it together than alone, better to risk than self-protect, better to live in community than isolation.

    When looking for a church, look for that… don’t look for brands, styles, or programs, look for people…. look for people who want to be a mess together as they figure out this thing called life.

    Thanks Addie for sharing pieces of yourself in this… I would love to hear more of you and Andrew’s story some time if we ever can. Road trip to Minneapolis in our future? Yes Please!

    Jake

    1. Thanks Jake. Yes…look for people, not programs. I couldn’t agree more.

      We’d definitely love to see you guys. What’s halfway between Nebraska and Minnesota? Hmm. I-80. I-80 and absolutely nothing.

      1. Ha, well, I have several reasons to make my way up to you, so we might just have to make that happen. My wife wants to go to IKEA, and I want to go to a home brewing store that is in St. Paul. We gotta make it happen this summer some time.

  3. “We can leave a church, join another, but they will always be Our People…because they are His People.”

    I love this line! I’m glad you didn’t leave us hanging, waiting for the “perfect church” that never materializes but have realized that so often crash landing is the best thing that could’ve happened to us. 🙂

    1. Thanks Sarah. Yes, I still struggle with this a bit–knowing that there’s no perfect church ever but desiring a church that feels like a fit. There’s no easy answer, I suppose, just like with everything else that’s worth something.

  4. Love this so much! So true, it’s easy to lump people together and not see the unique and varied individuals within the lump. Thanks for writing this series, it has been helpful to me.

    1. Thanks Susie. It’s a long process–learning to see people for the beautiful, unique souls that they are instead of as the group I’ve assigned them to.

  5. I find so much hope in the diversity of the churches where I’ve belonged. The stuff that I find troublesome is often on the radar of plenty of other folks who don’t like it either. If I can stop my self-righteousness for a moment, I may find some allies and a community in the midst of perceived imperfections. Also, I love how you began this. I actually wrote an article for a magazine once that compared all church visiting experiences to crash landing or zooming through the atmosphere of another planet and crashing into a strange, unknown world. That’s how visiting church always feels to me.

  6. I had to stop and get a cup of coffee before I finished reading this, so I could savor it. This post is my experience, to a T. I love the crashing analogy. In my case, it was like God physically took the airplane from one airport and threw it into another. You’ve described this beautifully. Emerging individuals that you get to know – yes! I just love this post 🙂

  7. Good thoughts. I had a friend whose parents were from India, whose grandparents’ marriage was arranged by their parents. He asked his grandma almost incredulously, “you mean you had to marry grandpa and you didn’t even know him let alone love him?” “Yes,” she responded, “but you can grow to love someone.”

    1. Thanks Suzannah. Yes, I feel this too. It makes me anxious for the day when we will know pure community, untainted by loss or judgment or fear.

  8. I had a similar experience. I grew up Methodist in a church that sang hymns and I was convinced was going to die. I found churches in college with electric guitars and a lack of ritual. After I got married, and tried a bunch of churches, I found myself settling back into the Methodist church. This time not just out of a lack of a better option, but because I want to be here. It’s odd when things come full circle in a way you didn’t expect.

    1. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story Kellen. Yes, things came full circle in a weird way for me too.

  9. I have found that it is important to get plugged in. Plugging in has shrunken down the ocean of church dwellers such as us. The more we engage the smaller it has become. It has also been important and quite necessary for us to see church as a place where messed up people gather which is good news because we too are messed up. Messy people whom Love Himself pursues! There is no perfect church. We could spend our whole life searching never to be satisfied. Our local expression of worship, the place where we’ve crashed into looks and sounds nothing like I envisioned, but it is the place where God has us. We’ve opened our hearts up making space for extended community and we are basking in the beauty of a new normal.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. I struggle a little with the idea of “plugging in” (I have a whole rant-y post about it), mostly because I spent so many years spearheading Programs and trying to recruit, recruit, recruit! To jump in with both feet again feels scary to me. But I LOVE what you said about “opening up our hearts and making space for community.” This is a struggle for me, but it always turns out to be worth it.

  10. Sometimes…most of the time now…I wonder if anything that happens on Sundays was on the radar of the Lord of the church when He walked the planet. Except the common thread element everyone is here talking about: messed up, broken, frail, call-them-what-you-will-people. Ah, the necessity of grace. And there it is, the church, saved by grace to live gracisously.

  11. I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years but never yet been to a church, for a number of reasons I suppose. One is that I am not from a Christian family or community of any kind and the other could be that I am a very private and even shy person, although you probably wouldn’t think so if you met me in the street! It seems that in America, being such a geographically B I G country, you would be spoilt for choice for churches, as with most everything else as well. Another thing; the churches in England can be more about social standing and a sort of club for rather nice, rather middle class people who seem to have it altogether; I don’t know where an awkward, sometimes loner Working class guy like me would fit in to their respectability and perfection.

    Maybe one day I will find a church I can worship in and then maybe I’ll find the jigsaw piece I might have been missing throughout my life; or maybe not. I’ll still have my faith in God whatever happens.

    God accepts us for who we are, warts an’ all; why can’t we do the same for each other?

    1. Though I don’t know much about churches in London, I can resonate with your struggles as a private person. I would consider myself an extrovert, and sometimes moving toward community, though I want it, though I know it’s good for me, is hard. I feel closer to God alone than when I’m surrounded by people. And yet, I think there’s something to be said for this church business, even if I’m not totally sure what it is yet. Certainly it’s okay if you haven’t, but I hope that you find someplace that fits you one of these days. Thanks for the comment.

  12. Sooo enjoyed all 3 posts, especially:
    “The church bulletin lists half a dozen Ways to Get Involved, and it makes you tired in a way you can’t articulate.”
    and
    “I believe in the mysterious beauty of Capital-“C”-Church. I am still not sure what that looks like shrunk down, jammed into a Sunday morning. I believe there is grace for the wanderer; I believe that sometimes we crash and it is exactly where we should be. I believe that sometimes we need to move on.”

    Thanks for capturing what’s hard to capture, Addie. God has gifted you in this.

  13. I’m in the middle of this leaving/finding process….wondering if what I’d love to see in a church does exist near me. This helps! Thank you!

    1. So glad, Julie. I hope that your journey brings you to somewhere that feels like home.

  14. May God guide you in whatever you decide is the best place to be. In our case, our journey led us to an Anglican church that is spirit filled and biblically faithful. The worship is a blend of contemporary and traditional elements that did deep into our roots (see Fernando Ortega’s latest album or Indelible Grace for examples of songs). There are some churches which are being led to different model than the large big box, rock concert style worship. I don’t think there is one model that works for everyone. Our church is one of those newer churches associated with PEAR USA and part of the Anglican Church in America. Perhaps there is one in your area (you can check the websites for a directory)

    1. Thanks for the tip, Ray. I’m glad you’ve found a place, and will keep this information in mind!

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