Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Hand Wavers, The Doughnuts, And The Amens: My Search For A Church

When I lived in Illinois, I attended the same church for nearly 40 years. As a kid, I remember getting smiley face stickers in my Bible for memorizing scripture. I went to confirmation classes and youth group. I have fond memories of going on several mission trips to Missouri, Michigan, and even Canada with the youth group. (Well, I have fond memories of most of those trips, but I had mono when we went to Canada so I mostly have memories of sleeping and feeling like crap there) and I remember staying up all night at lock-ins as a teenager. I taught Sunday school to the grandkids of the people who taught me Sunday school. I was a big part of the drama group at my church, acting in and directing several worship dramas.I enjoyed helping with Vacation Bible School every summer. I joined several Bible study groups (between you and me, it was mostly because they provided free babysitting and that meant I didn't have to deal with my kids for a whole hour once a week.) I think I entertained the retired people in my group by likening every bit of scripture we studied to a recent Veggie Tales episode I'd seen with my kids. "This is just like the time Junior Asparagus was scared of the Frankenstein celery . . ." I painted crafts to be sold at our holiday bazaar and I joined the ladies who knit and crocheted prayer shawls although I think I only completed one shawl ever, and it quite possibly fell apart the first time it was washed. But I tried. I knew everyone at my church, and they knew me. Even if they didn't really know me, they at least knew of me as that lady with all the kids who sometimes shows up to church without realizing one of her kids isn't wearing shoes. In my defense, at least I never forgot any of my ki . . . Oh wait. Nevermind. Umm, in my defense, I had a whole litter of kids! Cut me some slack!

When I moved to Florida over 7 years ago, one of the tasks at the very top of my list was to find a new church home. But that's hard to do when you compare every church you visit to the one you left back home. I still haven't found a church home down here in Florida, but admittedly, I haven't gotten involved and I've never given any of them enough time to grow on me. I've also been caught up in whether I personally liked the worship service, if the people seemed friendly and welcoming, if the church was close to home, if there was adequate parking, if the church had some funky smell to it, if they sang songs I liked, if the sanctuary was pretty and had stained glass windows depicting scenes of Jesus's life, and of course, if they served good coffee or just that nasty powdered creamer stuff. What I failed to ask myself is if I could serve and grow at that particular church. I know if I had just stuck with one church and kept returning, joining a small group, making an effort, I would have a church home today. 


Still, I visit different churches now and then, thinking I'll get serious about finding a new church home. But it's awkward! And I've gone to church my whole life! I can't imagine how uncomfortable it could be for someone new to the whole church-going experience. Trying out new churches is just plain awkward. And it's especially strange if you try new denominations and/or new areas. This is what I've gathered from attending a variety of churches here in the south.

1.     Ya'll are hand wavers. Every church I've gone to down here, especially the Baptist churches, like to raise their hands in worship and every single time I see it, it reminds me of this Tim Hawkins video and cracks me up. 



The congregation sways, eyes closed, so moved by the experience that they must stretch their arms heavenward. I stand there, blundering my way through the lyrics quietly to myself lest another human hear me. If it's an especially rousing song, I may sway a bit. (Actually I just shift my weight from foot to foot a time or two, but it might be construed as swaying by some.) Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to lift my arms in praise. I tried it once. I felt like I was anticipating a volleyball to come my way. #Awkward

2.     Another big difference is that the worship service where I grew up was an hour long. One hour. Sixty minutes. And heaven forbid they ever ran over time by even a few seconds because someone would be on the receiving end of some hefty complaints! Sunday school was for kids and it ran simultaneously with the worship service for adults. Down here, on-the-other-hand, the worship service alone is at least an hour and then Sunday school/Bible study is for everyone and it's another hour or more. At some churches, it's an all-day extravaganza.

3.     People (again, I've noticed it predominately with those Southern Baptists, but the first time I visited a particular United Methodist Church here, I heard a sermon against the evils of divorce also) think I'm the devil because I'm divorced. At church today, there was a card to fill out if you'd like more information about the church, would like to submit a prayer request, or wanted to get more information about volunteer opportunities. The card had the following options: single, married, widowed. Divorced was not an option. Although I wanted information about volunteering for a program, I didn't know what box to check because I don't think I count as "single." I thought about writing in divorced, but decided that might be antagonistic. Also, I wasn't entirely sure they'd let me back in if they knew I was gasp divorced. I ended up shoving the blank card in my purse and leaving.

4.     Down here, as far as I can tell, churches are rated based on the quality of coffee and doughnuts provided after worship service.

5.     I don't think this is specific to any geographic location or any particular denomination, but some churches are just friendlier than others. However, there's a fine line between being friendly and welcoming, and just plain freaking the snot out of newcomers by hugging them, following them to their seats, and talking their ears off about people they don't know and things taking place in church that they've never heard of.

6.     A lot of the churches I've visited down here are big on random Amens! throughout the worship service. Now, I'm no stranger to the rote repetition of phrases in worship. If I hear, "Peace be with you," the words, "and also with you," will leave my lips of their own accord without fail. If I see an offering, I will sing the doxology whether it's actually being played or not. But I do not understand the seemingly random chorus of amens that reverberate off the walls of the church at various times throughout the service.

7.     Finally, I've noticed that it's a universal truth of any church, in any denomination, in any part of the country that people get ticked when you, a newcomer, sit in "their pew."







8 comments:

Unknown said...

I totally get the bible study because there was free child care thing. Been there, done that. I have been known to go to church on Tuesday morning when I was sick simply because someone would be taking care of my kids for two and a half hours.

Keep searching. Hand raising and amens are a comfort thing. If you aren't comfortable don't do it. But don't let it keep you from a church you otherwise like.

Jenny Binder said...

What was your church in Illinois? I recently moved to Chicago and am churchless

Alexis Puccino said...

I wish I could invite you to my church in NJ. We are a hand raising church, but you don't have to join in. However you worship is your business! But we have a terrific small group for divorcees, and excellent womens ministries too. Don't give up searching for a community of believers where you feel welcome.

BarbaraShowell said...

I grew up Catholic and services were 45 minutes in and out, with two bible readings and a sermon, thank you. Also say, peace be with you and also with you. A coworker told me Episcopalian is Catholicism without the guilt, so that’s a good one to try. I just went my own way and no longer feel the desire for a church, so maybe if it’s important you should keep seeking.

Colleen said...

Amen! I've had this same struggle when I've moved.

CyndiJ said...

You just explained me to a T!

Cindy said...

I grew up attending a Lutheran church. I started attending an evangelical church on my own when I was 19. I met my husband there, we married and started our family there. After 8 years we moved to another state and had a church recommended to us. We've been there now going on 30 years. Some raise their hands, some don't. Some jump up and down, some don't. Our pastor tells people not to come to church for the preaching or the music or the color of carpet. You go to church to draw near to God. We need to get our eyes off of the people around us (we're all flawed!) and look to the Lord for peace, guidance, wisdom. Go to church to be refreshed and reminded of who you are in Christ. He created you and has a great plan for your life! Go to church for Him!

Cindy said...

Oh! I forgot to mention, about 1/3 of our church is single: never married, divorced, widowed...

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