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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Adventures in Church Hunting

We haven't looked for a church together ever. When we married, Doug was pastor at Northbrook Covenant and so I attended there while chaplain of North Park University. During the few months between leaving Northbrook and moving to Sweden we enjoyed a season of visiting lots of different churches in the Chicago area since we had never had the chance to do so. Since then, except for the few months between Sweden and England, we've never been without a congregation. Now that we are settling back in CA without jobs as pastors, we are trying with earnest to find a church. It's not easy. This is probably the area where we are finding the most culture shock in being back. While there are numerous churches to choose from trying to find one with the qualities that we value is not easy. After spending so many rich years in the presence of a beautifully diverse population, the mostly monochrome congregations that we are encountering are rather bland. The churches we've visited have spanned the spectrum from very liberal with large populations of gay people to super conservative where crack pot comments about President Obama have been made from the pulpit, to ones that resemble a retirement community with plenty of blue and gray hairs dotting the congregation, and just about everything in between. Mostly churches have been friendly (the ones with the larger gay populations super welcoming and accepting) and welcoming without being too overbearing. The music has been all over the place. I recently told the dear couple that were our musicians when we left Immanuel that they have ruined me for life for worship music. They are so talented musically but also possess a rare instinct for what it means to truly lead people in music, not just perform. We loved working with them and they are dear friends to this day and we miss them terribly. We dream of being brought together for ministry once again someday.
The talented and amazing Ben and Anita Tatlow
They are called Salt of the Sound and you can check them out here.  ( I fully recommend that you go there, have a listen and download their music. They are truly wonderful, even if they've made it really hard for me to be unbiased about church music. Anyway...I suspect we'll keep at it but it may be awhile before we hit upon the congregation that feels like a place we could call our home church.
Last week we continued our journey through churches based on what we are finding online. Another shout out to those of you in church leadership: YOUR WEBSITE MATTERS! New people are looking for churches through the web and if you aren't up to speed, you will get passed over.
We ended up at The Rock church in Palm Desert last Sunday. Unsure of what to expect, we were intrigued that the lead pastor was Hispanic and associate African American. The lead pastor is also a skateboarder so we were a little curious. We arrived a few minutes late and walked into a darkened sanctuary that felt like a concert atmosphere. The music was so loud that at that moment I felt every bit my 55 years and more! I could hardly stand it! And speaking of stand, we had to stand for more than 30 minutes from the moment we walked in and found our chairs. As we came in, the ushers greeted us, and handed us a little cup asking if we wanted to take communion. Hmmm...this is different. But we're up for different.
Anyway...we didn't know any of the songs. We didn't enjoy all the standing. There was much cheering and arm raising, which is OK even if it's not my style. I appreciated that the band was very talented and all young people. And the congregation was very young and quite diverse. But the sermon was thin. I leaned over to Doug and said, "I feel like I'm at the campfire of a Jr. High camp getting ready to throw a stick on the fire to re-dedicate my life to Jesus." And when it came time to take the offering, well, the introductory remarks smacked a bit too much of a health and wealth gospel. "I give this money trusting that God will bless me and multiply it."
But the real memorable bit of the morning came with the communion 'liturgy' and I use that term loosely. The pastor gave an elementary explanation of what it means to partake in the Lord's supper and put too much emphasis on our being worthy as opposed to Christ making us worthy. Then when it came time to share, he asked us to remove the thin cellophane wrap from the top and lo and behold, there sat the wafer. After we took the wafer, we opened up the cup and sipped it down. All-in-one self-contained communion. Had never seen that before. Two thoughts...too much waste. Could be useful in situations where sanitation is a real issue.
We left before the service ended because the announcements were going on and on and we knew we weren't going to come back and we didn't want to stand for 15 more minutes as we sang the closing music that would probably be too loud for us anyway.
We both remarked that we're glad that people are drawn to this congregation and being nurtured in their Christian faith. Except for the health and wealth business, they seem to be do some good things in young peoples' lives. I wish them well but it's clear that The Rock will not become our spiritual home here in the desert.