I can’t pinpoint the day when church made me want to run screaming, but it did. For many years. There are reasons that I won’t elaborate on, but it has to do growing up in a performance-based church with a legalistic upbringing and little experience of God’s grace, as well as some deep church wounds that were difficult to heal.
And even though for a time I couldn’t walk into a church, or stand to listen to people talk ‘Christianese’ at me, or sometimes even listen to others pray,
I still longed for community, I longed to be a part of the body of Christ that loved one another.
I just didn’t see a lot of it. And I became very cynical, so that even the genuine and grace-filled people in my life became tainted in my mind with the pain from my church wounds. My faith, at least in terms of ‘organized religion’, had been deconstructed. I wanted no part of any of it. And I know that countless others feel that way, too. I hear others talk about it all the time. Believers are disillusioned, and non-believers feel that their judgements of believers are confirmed as they see some of them behave in ways that are anything but loving. (A post I wrote a year ago, “Why Church Breaks My Heart“, was my most popular blog post to date.)
But my heart still clung to Jesus, even though my face was turned from his people.
I was (and still am) so disgusted by the beliefs and actions of many who claim to love Jesus. But I slowly learned that the church is messy, and that it’s just not going to always be beautiful messy as I had hoped. Sometimes it is even ugly messy. And what was I going to do about that? Stay away forever, or jump in and get my hands dirty?
To be honest, I still don’t know that answer to that question. But my wounds are healing to the point that I can talk about my God once again. I can listen to people pray without cringing. I can listen to people talk about their faith without judging them and doubting their sincerity.
It was quite the ugly place to be.
I feel like I can once again have hope for God’s people, for his Church. I have found other people of faith who are open and exploring social justice issues and are trying to truly discern what it means to Love One Another as opposed to just towing a certain political line. We don’t always agree, but we can agree to disagree and listen to each other. And once again I can believe that Love Wins.
We had found a church in Portland, Or that we thought would be our church home – they were involved in helping the homeless, improving race relations, serving refugees.
And then we moved from the Pacific NW to Louisville, Kentucky –
the middle of the Bible belt, the heart of Southern Baptists, which sometimes represents the very type of ‘Christian’ that I had been trying to distance myself from. How could we ever find a church home? Did we even want to? We weren’t even sure that we were going to stay in Louisville, so was it even worth trying to find a place?
I talked to people about their churches, at work and in my neighborhood. We live in Clifton, a close-knit neighborhood, and I really hoped to find a church close to home. Like within walking distance. We tried a few, but they didn’t seem like a good fit. I attended a book study with women from a local mega-church, which was okay for a small group, but I really wanted to steer away from the mega-church mentality. I started googling the terms that were important to me: missional, social justice, homeless ministry, addiction support. One thing I was also hoping for was a church that was integrated – not just a bunch of white people. This is a very diverse city, but the churches we had attended were not diverse.
It is fortunate that most churches now have their services online, so you can ‘try out’ a church by listening to their podcast before attending. That won’t tell you everything, but it’s a start. My husband and I really have a heart for college kids, and I liked the Portland church’s vibe, so I googled
“Hipster church, Louisville, college kids”
I scrolled past the extra-large churches and came up with a couple of names. (Honestly, I’m not sure how I found the names, because if I google it again, I don’t come up with the same results). I listened to their sermons, and one of the pastors, Matt Ness, did not make me want to run screaming. So we decided to try that church.
The Avenue Church started about five years ago as a ministry to University of Louisville students. They hold services in space in the middle of an office building/small business center. We walked into the small room with less than 100 people, where we saw a stage with a background of pallets, blue lights, and a pole in the center of the room. I was intimidated at the small size of the group, and I might have left, but Craig said “Let’s stay”. During the welcome time (and can I just say – WHY do churches still do that? but I digress) the pastor introduced himself and told us a little about the church. They recently decided to merge with the church that meets in the same space directly after them – a church called The Soul Center. This church is predominantly black, and the two pastors and congregations had decided to combine the two and become an integrated faith community.
How cool is that?
The two churches are forming a new church together, which will be called One Church. And it is just in the beginning stages – the first official combined service was to be in a few weeks (which will be this coming Sunday, December 6). AND they are involved in helping the community. They support an organization called the Family Scholar House, which helps single parents attending college. The Family Scholar House states their mission is “to end the cycle of poverty and transform our community by empowering families and youth to succeed in education and achieve life-long self-sufficiency”. AND they are involved in an organization called Eyes That See, which works with women in Ethiopia who desire to leave the sex industry.
From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of college kids and families. Not a lot of us ‘mature’ couples (yikes) but maybe we can offer something to this newly formed church. For the first time in a long while, I am excited about attending a church, being part of a church body, and finding a church community.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes . . .