Church Hunting


Let me tell you about our church hunting so far.

Sunday 1. We got up for an 8 AM English service at a Serbian Orthodox cathedral. Stunning sanctuary. Literally the most gorgeous church choir. I could go on for hours in wordless rapture over how gorgeous this choir was.

But nobody was there, except maybe six people. And nobody sang anything, which is problematic, since the entire Orthodox liturgy is sung. When I turned around toward the end of the service, plenty of people had filled up the back pews — but out of the original six nobodies and the plenty of people, only four people received communion. Four.

For that, and the mumbled, long, preachy sermon, we said adios. I mean, збогом.

Sunday 2. We found ourselves at my parents’ house, several hours away from the church we wanted to visit. I set an alarm for 5:30 AM. We woke up at 7:30 AM.

The alarm never went off.

So, obviously, we just went back to sleep.

Sunday 3. We attended wedding number 4 of 6 out of state, mistakenly considered a Saturday wedding mass as a counts-for-Sunday mass, and again slept in on Sunday morning.

Sunday 4. I stripped the sheets off Erich’s face. “Let’s go, babe. You have twenty minutes.”

Accustomed to his lesiurely life of churchless Sunday mornings, Erich mumbles, “Do we have to go to church?”

I say yes, of course. What are we, heathens?

He said, “I’m going to follow the example of our Lord and rest,” then pulled the sheets over his head and went back to sleep.

Regardless, we made it to a Greek Orthodox church on time. The website advertised itself as English-speaking, and that was…somewhat true. There was most definitely Greek, Greek everywhere. And sometimes English. But mostly unintelligible speech that could be either Greek or English.

A greeter whispered instructions to me over my shoulder as I kept flipping between pages, trying to locate which of the hundreds of Kyrie eleisons we were all stumbling through.

And then the priest preached on the icon of St. John the Baptist in Chicago and how recently it began dripping healing myrrh with two chemicals a scientist couldn’t identify. Aren’t God’s miracles amazing? Erich, a chemist, was not impressed. Lord shoot me down for my unbelieving heart, but I wasn’t, either.

Since we’d visited a whopping two churches, I felt it appropriate to dissolve into an existential meltdown. How hard was it, I wanted to know, to make me okay with any of the millions of denominations that speak in the English language and don’t have dripping icons?

I texted my friend an anguished confession: I feared I would be forced to join the Catholic Church, after all. She said, “Keep visiting churches.” Meltdown over.

Sunday 5. We pulled through a maze of one-way streets to a little church smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. We walked past a rummage estate sale.

“What’s a rummage estate sale?” Erich asked.

“Like a rummage sale,” I said, “but the creepy guy out front tricks you into going into his house.” (I made that up.)

We were late, but few people were there, anyway. A ten-year-old boy showed up later than we, made a hurried bow to the altar, and got into his altar boy robes before parading in the second procession with a candle. A third altar boy, even later, showed up out of nowhere with the cross.

In front of me, a baby clutched and unclutched his fist at me, staring. Then he broke off his mother’s beaded necklace. Beads bouncing everywhere on the hardwood, parishioners and Erich hunted them down, and the best part was, the young mother didn’t look embarrassed. The choir of young women and a tall bass kept singing.

The reader, a short, nervous woman who kept tabs on everybody who walked through the church doors, whispered the reading. Then a short African man read the same passage aloud in a language I’d never heard before — Ethiopian, maybe, if the music was any indication.

A nervous deacon gave the homily in a fast monotone, pausing to shuffle each handwritten page. It was the worst sermon delivery I’d ever heard, but Orthodox sermons are short and not the point of liturgy. Plus, I learned a thing or two about the Transfiguration.

People kept coming in — black people, white, Hispanic, Asian, head-scarfed and bare-headed, homeschool-dressed, professorial. No young men Erich’s age, I noted.

By the time we got to the Lord’s Prayer, there were enough representatives of each culture for four different people groups to recite the prayer in their own language, after we all sang it in English. I didn’t recognize any of the languages, but I almost cried, anyway.

During the Eucharist, people kept coming up to us and giving us fellowship bread, a sign of goodwill to those who cannot receive communion. They gave us smiles and kind words too. And they invited us to coffee hour (i.e., an Orthodox combination of the two things I dislike most: black coffee and socializing).

Being introverts, we declined and escaped back out to the sidewalk with the rummage estate sale sign. But I think we’ll go back next week, and we might even stay for coffee hour.

What are your funny and inspiring church hunting stories?

4 thoughts on “Church Hunting

  1. Mindi

    Definitely go to coffee hour! In my experience, “coffee hour” is more like “full meal with lots of ethnic food and awesome moms taking care of you,” though of course every church is different!

    I’m getting ready to church hunt–simultaneously so excited and so nervous!!


    • Bailey Steger

      Free lunch doesn’t sound so bad! Maybe my love of good food will outweigh my shyness…. :) I know how you feel! Church hunting has so much potential for both awesomeness and…not awesomeness. I’d love to hear what kind of church you end up settling down with!


  2. Karen Wright

    That last church sounds awesome! Church can be the most segregated time of the week so the ethnic diversity sounds refreshing and ideal. Would love to hear take 2 on it! I didn’t church hunt at all when I first moved to Portland 4 years ago, I just started going to a pretty awesome church and never looked back. It is a big one though and now feel like it’s time for me to move on. I crave the REAL-ness like what you describe in your last church adventure. Big churches kind of lack the hokey relateableness and it’s something I miss. I was raised baptist and in my adult years identify “nondenominational” but I’ve started to wonder if Quakerism isn’t a better fit for where I am right now. I like their value of simplicity and the less structured, open-ended sharing and emphasis on each person’s personal journey rather than sit and listen for an hour (I’m not an auditory learner anyway so traditional church has always been my least best way to engage…) I plan to try out a quaker church when I get back in state this fall. Super excited to church hunt…right now…I’m sure it’s going to be full of awkwardness and everything else!! :)


    • Bailey Steger

      Having grown up exclusively among white Christians, I’m excited at the possibility of entering into fellowship — even just for a visit — with a diverse group of people.

      Making sermons the focal point of church is my BIGGEST PET PEEVE, so I hear you there! Let me know how your church hunt goes, especially as I’m unfamiliar with Quakerism!


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