I Found a Church!

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I was the odd Christian who loved going to church far more than daily devotions. I never missed a Sunday, whereas daily devotions were a pain and a frustration that didn’t get off the ground for longer than a few days strung together. Church was where I met God best. Even when I began deconstructing, church was the last thing to go — and only very reluctantly.

Despite my love of church, I’ve got a checkered church past. I once belonged to a home church that, while well-intentioned and on the surface a great fit, was controlling and spiritually abusive. I kept “growing out” of the two Baptist churches I attended most of my life. I say “growing out,” because even though they weren’t a good fit theologically, I stayed with them out of love for the community and ignorance about where else to go. They were like family. You don’t just abandon family because your beliefs change, no matter how frustrated or upset they make you.

This left me with so many questions about church after I got married and started the “settling down” process — in other words, the hunt for the forever church.

I wanted to be loyal to a church, not like the church hoppers who found fault with everything, but I didn’t want to end up bored out of my mind, offended, or leaving service midway in tears a couple years after joining. How was I supposed to anticipate where my spiritual growth would go?

I also questioned where to compromise, because there was always compromise involved when it came to denominations and me. I finally settled on the idea that while it would be ideal to agree with the denomination at large, it was more important to find a local church we felt comfortable with. Yes, it was disappointing to consider joining a church that belonged to the Orthodox Church of America, which was taking steps to further limit women’s involvement, but if that particular church was pastored by a self-proclaimed feminist, I wasn’t going to complain.

But finding out I was pregnant shook up our options. If we homeschooled, church might be a major social outlet, so a church with young families was more critical. Since we wanted our son baptized and able to take communion from birth, that quickly eliminated most options previously available to us as two baptized adults. I was initially willing to belong to a more male-dominated church, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of raising a child, particularly a girl, in a church that told her her womanhood barred her from service.

And these are just a few of the beliefs I could have personally overlooked; they either didn’t affect me and my husband because we were baptized adults, or they didn’t affect us because we knew tradition and theology well enough that disagreement didn’t confuse our faith. Now that we had to consider what we wanted our son to see, hear, and participate in, our options narrowed.

For a while, Erich and I visited an Orthodox church. We loved the liturgy, the theology, and the people of that church. Ultimately, we decided against it because I wasn’t comfortable with their anti-egalitarian overtones and because it was hard as Westerners to get our foot into the door of an Eastern church. The Eastern church calendar is different than the Western, which would alienate us from our Western families’ religious celebrations and practices.

And as petty as this is, the community felt foreign to us without some of the Western trappings of groups and adult Sunday school, and with the rigorous process of catechesis and chrismation. We were already shy, lonely, and totally new to the real world. Joining our family to an unfamiliar church tradition proved too much for our faith and social capacities at the time.

So for those reasons, and other reasons I’ll share at another time, we didn’t go to church for the majority of this year. When we did go, we would never go two Sundays in a row. It held little meaning for us, as I didn’t consider myself a Christian, and we were in the middle of moving, and church exacerbated spiritual and social problems.

Even after I decided to go back to Christianity, and even after we settled into the area we hope to live in for the rest of our lives, we were slow to find a church. And I will shamelessly admit this is partly because having two days a week to sleep in is glorious. But mostly, again, what was the point?

Then cancer and casseroles reminded me of how much I missed church.

A woman in my old church had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and I listened to my mom share the details of how she and the church got involved, bringing casseroles to the family, calling them, praying for her every Sunday, and all the things communities do.

I realized we wouldn’t have that if our family went through a tragedy. There would be no retired grandmas or homeschooled teens willing and able to watch the baby. There would be no assurance that anybody within several hours of us would be checking up on us weekly. And there would be no casseroles in foil pans. We’re fortunate to have my in laws five minutes away from us, and some close friends and family an hour or two from us, but that’s not quite the same thing as having a local community mobilize to your aid.

And that was my pious motivation to get serious about church hunting — wanting a community who would bring my family casseroles if something ever happened to us.

We worked out on paper that the Episcopal church would be the best fit for us theologically and practically, accommodating Erich’s Catholicism, my Protestantism, our shared desire to baptize and raise our son in a historic faith tradition, and our strongest theological beliefs. Eucharist every Sunday was nonnegotiable. Sacramentalism and liturgy were nonnegotiable. Our views on the Bible, tradition, equality, and love of the other were absolutely nonnegotiable.

We’ve been attending a local Episcopal church, and I love it. The community is warm, united, and diverse. It feels like one of those small town churches you read about in novels or watch in Hallmark movies, where the main issue is how to love one another instead of people’s pet theological fights, where parishioners are simultaneously ornery and opinionated but not above changing their mind by the end of the story.

The pastor journeyed from fundamentalism to, in his words, “crazy liberalism.” “I tell this to everybody, I’m a crazy liberal,” he told me. “Just so you know where I’m coming from.”

But his crazy liberalism results in simple, thought-provoking sermons that challenge all of us to take seriously Christ’s call to love, starting with the person in the pew next to us. He manages to touch on politics without ever being political. During one sermon, he mentioned how loving one’s enemies means doing good to them always, regardless of who they are. We were collecting money for hurricane relief efforts that Sunday, and he prompted us to remember that the money was going to people some didn’t think should be in America (illegal aliens) or people whose political views disturbed us — to the “others” we often treated as enemies. It was the most tactful, convicting reference to our nation’s divisions and its impact on our spiritual lives.

Then there’s the deacon with the pierced ear and the Kentucky accent who says, “Peace, y’all!” when we pass the peace, and the older ladies who waved the colored pom poms during our anthem from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat more vigorously than the kids. And the church still manages a reverence and solemnity lacking in many other churches we’ve visited.

Speaking of which, there’s the choir. It’s beautiful and fun and an easy foot into the community’s door (particularly since I passed out cold during our kickoff Sunday).

It’s not an absolutely perfect fit. I’m more theologically in agreement with Eastern Orthodoxy on certain issues. There aren’t any young couples our age, much less those with young children. We miss the five-senses experience of Orthodox liturgy. The congregational responses are just slightly different enough from Catholicism’s that we keep messing up and fumbling around in the Book of Common Prayer.

But for the first time in a long time, I am excited to go to church. I don’t want to sleep in on Sunday or go on weekend getaways if it means missing church. I meet God there. I am relieved that they encourage all who seek a closer relationship with God to take communion, as I still feel unworthy to partake. Once again, I think church is a crucial part of my spirituality.

Plus, it’s looking like this is the kind of church who would bring us casseroles when needed.

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21 thoughts on “I Found a Church!

  1. Courtney

    I’m so glad to hear that your family found a church, Bailey! It can be Super hard finding one sometimes. Before my family began attending the church we’re at now, we were at a church that seemed to be becoming more dysfunctional by the day. There were a lot of scandals and things going on behind the scenes that made us very uncomfortable – which is sad, because that’s the church I was at the longest and used to love. Thankfully, I’m at a church now that has been great and healthy for my family. Interestingly enough though, we’ve seen the opposite of what you’ve noticed at your church. Ours is Predominantly small children and and young couples – with few college students my age or couples my parents’ age. It’s a nondenominational church, so perhaps that has something to do with it? I’m not sure. Anyways, I wish you guys the best of luck at your new church! I’m happy for you and your husband!

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    • Bailey Steger

      I totally get you on the increasingly dysfunctional church. That was my experience too. Though it must have been so painful to leave, I’m glad you found a MUCH better church!

      So I am super fascinated by church demographics and what influences them! I know that the typical story is that more conservative, independent (as opposed to mainline) churches are attracting the young families, while liberal and/or mainline churches are declining in attendance and not attracting younger people. Which is interesting to me, because I’m part of a “trend” of second generation Christians who are rejecting certain aspects of nondenominationalism, conservatism, etc., and most if us, if we stay Christian, attend mainline churches. And many of us our are in our twenties/thirties/forties.

      In my community, mainline churches like the Presbyterian Church USA, Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, and the Catholic church all have thriving young communities. The nondenominational churches seem to be pretty big too. I have no idea why this is! Contemporary worship and community might be attracting younger crowds? Ours is one of the few churches that doesn’t offer contemporary worship.

      But then again, when I was a kid in my fundamental Baptist church, we were, like, one of three families with children. The rest were elderly people. Several years later, the church is PACKED with large homeschooling families. So I wonder if it has less to do with denomination or worship style and more to do with people’s desire to find a church community that reflects where they’re at in life. Maybe it takes some courageous young spirits to pick a good church even if the demographics skew older, and then when other younger families visit, those families are now more likely to stay. I’m hoping that’s the case here — that if a younger family/couple/person visits our fabulous church, they’ll be more likely to seriously consider coming back again since there’s a young couple with a baby. ;)

      Wow, just totally rambled. I’d love to hear more of your observations, if you have any!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Courtney

        That’s so cool – I also find church demographics interesting! I have heard the same thing, although I do find it strange that people who are leaving more conservative churches aren’t attending mainline churches in higher numbers. Perhaps people are afraid to try something that isn’t familiar? People do have a tendency to be creatures of habit.

        Nonetheless, it is possible that for others, it pertains to the place they’re at in life. I know that at my old church, the pastor primarily talked about marriage (or more accurately, his views on marriage) and tithing. Ironically, the congregation was made up predominately of upper class couples with children.

        There was almost no diversity in things such as age, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or marital status. Thankfully, it is much more diverse at my current church, but sometimes I think it does take a couple of brave souls to get the ball rolling. Hopefully, as time goes on, your church will glean more people in a similar stage of life who can relate to some of the challenges of being a young family raising a child in the modern world.

        Don’t feel bad at all for rambling, as it is clear that we both have a tendency to be long winded, lol! You make some very interesting points and I always love reading your thoughts and posts! If you have any thoughts on diversity in the church, I’d love to hear those as well! Sadly, so many churches still seem so segregated, even though we’re living in the 21st century.🤔

        That aside, I look forward to journeying with you on this blog as you begin a new chapter at a new church!😃

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  2. villemezbrown

    I am so happy for you. :-) It sounds like you’ve found a church that is a good fit for you, and just as important, a church community that you are happy to be planning to raise your children in. My daughter is a senior in high school, and when she was looking at colleges one of the things she looked at was whether the college had a nearby UU church. It gave me warm fuzzies to learn that she was doing this. :-) Whether she attends church regularly, or at all, while at college, I know she had positive church experiences growing up.

    Adele

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      • villemezbrown

        I actually didn’t start attending our church until she was about 3 and then I officially became a member when she was 5. I had been reading and learning about UU for quite some time and had considered visiting local congregations before, but I didn’t start attending until we were “settled” and I was really starting to feel the urge to find a spiritual home for myself and my child.

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      • Bailey Steger

        That makes total sense. I’ve heard lots of similar stories. There’s something about being a mom and having a sense of settledness that encourages people to find a faith community.

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    • Bailey Steger

      How funny! For some reason, I balked at joining an Episcopal church. I don’t know if it was the latent stigma of LIBERAL CHURCHES, or if it just seemed like a cliche choice (many people I know who have gone through faith crises end up in the Episcopal church). I’m so glad I got over whatever reluctance was there and tried it out. I love it!

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  3. Athena

    Yay!! I’m so happy for you :) I am also one of those people who’ve been thinking (very vaguely and also very infrequently) that an Anglican church might be your thing.
    Since coming to college, I’ve been hanging about the Chruch of Ireland a lot, after being plunged headlong into the crazy world of Anglican church music. I LOVE it. There’s truth and beauty and solemnity and gorgeous music. I sing in my college chapel choir, and I’m going to be honest that, as well as all that loveliness and the joy of singing, there is a fair bit of “Where on earth did I put the preces?” as we’re about to sing the preces. That sorta thing :)
    I really really like the Anglican Eucharist as well. From a Presbyterian background, I find there’s something great about making a decision to go to the alter and receive communion, rather than having it brought to me. Not that it’s a huge thing. I’m just curious- does the lack of the Real Presence in Anglican communion put you off at all?
    But again, I’m really, honestly, very happy for you! :)

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    • Bailey Steger

      I’m so happy for you as well, fellow chorister!! And yes! So much shuffling between hymnals and bulletins and sheet music and choir folders and Book of Common Prayer….honestly, I just mumble along for a lot of it. ;)

      I don’t know if they do this in all Anglican/Episcopalian churches, but at our church, we all stand around the altar and wait for communion to be served. At first I felt awkward about it (everyone’s staring at me! everyone’s judging me! (not)), but now I love it. Like you, I’ve always loved going up to receive communion rather than sitting in the pews and passing along a plate of wafers.

      I was never a believer in the real presence, to be honest. In the Orthodox church, they simply say that it’s a mystery, and I left it at that. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s really Christ’s body and blood or if it’s more symbolic; what matters to me is that it’s a means of receiving God’s grace and a unitive act.

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  4. Evan Willis

    Welcome to the Anglican Communion!

    I wonder how common a path “spiritual crisis followed by going through Eastern Orthodoxy to settle in the Anglican communion” is, but it seems to produce good results. There is just something in the practices of the Anglican communion that feels almost like a “Western Orthodoxy”. :)

    Also, as to the question mentioned above concerning the real presence in the Eucharist. While the 39 Articles directly condemn Transubstantiation, they do insist that “the bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ”(Art. 28). Thus, it renders the extremes of Zwinglian Memorialism and Catholic Transubstantiation out of bounds, but leaves undefined what doctrine of “real presence” between them is to be accepted. In this we come close to the Eastern Orthodox view, saying it is a mystery how Christ is present, while affirming that he is present. I hold to Consubstantiation myself, but only as a view that is “within bounds” of what is defined by the 39 Articles. One of the strengths, as I see it, of Anglican/Episcopal theology is that it largely stays “Merely Christian”, leaving a great deal of freedom in understanding the details, while still leaving boundary-lines.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I forgot you were Anglican, Evan! How funny that we traveled the same spiritual path. I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who has — so far.

      That’s right, I do remember now reading on the Episcopal website that the real presence is accepted but not defined. It’s encouraging to hear you describe their theology in general as “merely Christian.” That’s exactly what I’m looking for.

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      • The Voracious Verbivore

        “I don’t think anyone else has– so far.”
        Well, now there’s three of us in this comments section, at least. We can all fumble through the liturgy together. :)
        In all seriousness, responding to your mentions of Communion because that’s something I struggle with as well: somewhere in the Book of Common Prayer there’s this great quote that roughly paraphrases to “If God has invited you to His table, who are we to keep you out?” I’ve always found that extremely comforting; God wants you, even if you don’t think so. <3

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