I wrote earlier about what I called “Church shopping,” or, the process of deciding what church to join. Not to repeat the earlier post, but I said I hated it, because it required me to sit in judgment and evaluate where I would do better to sit in submission and learn. But the decision must be made. So what is one to do?
I think it is important that one be very clear and honest as to the reason for the change. Ask God to help you to know the true answers, not just the ones I presume. Keep asking both yourself and God.
In my case, I was/am leaving a very good church where I have been a member for some 16 years. Of course, the reason may be obvious; a mandatory re-location or some such thing. I tried to leave over troubles in our denomination, although not directly in my parish (we Episcopalians are a troubled corner of Christendom), but I found that I could not. For better or worse, this dysfunctional and troubled family is MY dysfunctional and troubled family, and I cannot leave. Besides, most of the other “families” I explored were also troubled and dysfunctional!) There was no way to avoid the problems by simply abandoning the Episcopal Church. But if I am fully back, why change churches? And then, how does one do that!
I decided I could not use some sort of score card, giving this choir an 87, the preaching an 85 and the coffee only a 70 at church A; but church B gets a 81, 93 and 80, so Church B gets the nod –can’t do that!
Instead, the longer route was to simply immerse myself in everything going on in a new place, and see how it went, give God a chance to speak. I did not have to check the preaching – after a few months, the Rector’s heart for the Gospel became clear. I could tell whether I felt at home with the people, whether we were of at least similar vision, or if not, what God had to say about that difference.
As to the reason for the change, as I have said before, I have been feeling for quite a while that my time at my present large, very good Church is waning. I had spent some 20 years before in the first parish of my Anglican sojourn seeking, learning, and attempting to live an understanding of worship in the fellowship of the worshipping community. This involved the “Charismatic Community” deeply, but also classic Anglican worship (with Hymns –both ancient AND modern! – psalms and spiritual songs), the rule of St. Benedict, the Fathers, etc. Later, and during my time at my second parish, I became deeply immersed in study both of the Scriptures and Christian history and thought, in reading and discussing, and also in writing. I found both of these, the worship and the study, very profitable (for anyone curious, a more full account is in my testimony embedded in a presentation I prepared for a Christian Retreat last October on the role of study in the life of a Christian (I posted it here http://wp.me/p444I-aM). But I have reached a place where I have to recognize that the Epistle of St. James did NOT say that “True religion and undefiled is this: to grapple with a more intense Bible study through Ezekiel,” however good a thing that may be. It is a way to learn about the good thing; it is not the good thing in and of itself. In terms I have learned to use for a well-ordered rule of Christian life, my worship and study were (by themselves) as worthwhile and fulfilling as a two-legged stool. I needed and need to add a third leg of “action;” I need to be active in living out my request that “Thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven.”
For various reasons, I have found it very hard to latch on to this at in my present parish. That is not a sign of this churches failure, St. J. has been very good, and very healing for me. I have now been a member of here for over 16 years. More probably, it is a sign of success. Whether a High-profile thing like teaching, or a little thing like showing up early to arrange tables, or corporately cleaning the grounds for a spruce-up in the spring, there are “people to do those things” Good experienced teacher and preachers, good media people, good housekeeping and grounds keeping services. The place where I was needed was to continue to provide funds for some of those efforts, and that is an activity for which I am very poorly equipped! There are indeed ministries which I am perhaps “allowed” to participate, they get along just fine without me. I may be allowed, because it is good for me, but very few ministries actively “need” my participation. The ministry of the parish (either internal or external ministry) seems pretty much indifferent to any effort of mine. And so I began to engage thoughts of where I should be, if not here.
I considered returning to an old friend, in its continuing status as a mission church. I visited with them as a semi-member every Sunday, and every weeknight event for almost 9 months, and semi-regularly after that. I was able to work through all my past with them, and come to a place of peace and reconcilement with that body. There is much, very much, that attracts me there. However, even they have no vision for how they fit into the world, the neighborhood, the Church at large, or even the broader Anglican Communion. The vision seems from the past, not into the future, or even very clear for the present. At the end of the day, it seems to me that these issues are for those folks to work out; if I joined with them, it would be, again, for the past, not the future. I believe I can best help them by confining my input primarily to my regular prayer for them. They have this with earnest and heartfelt affection.
That has led me to the little Episcopal Church I am currently attending, which is still near enough for me to be involved in the day-to-day life of the parish.
As I immersed myself into their life, I discovered many things that I did not like, and continue to dislike. However, I found that I was coming to appreciate and value the people who were involved, even in the leading of what seem to me less than ideal practices. And I have discovered that this “appreciation and value” of those involved means far more to me than what I perceive as errors. And there is much good, much for me to both learn and participate in, in their vision.
I began to recognize that I desired that God would call me there; and then to appreciate that God works through our submitted-to-Him desires in just that way. That this desire could itself be the answer to my prayer.
But I don’t join easily or lightly. Last time I made my own decision into a church, it called for me to enter into, and embrace, the entire Anglican communion, and through them, the understandings, teaching and traditions of the church all the way to and through the Fathers. This decision is not that hard, but that’s the way I do these things. There is no halfway.
I have imagined my state at this church as something like the state of a novice, who has not yet taken final vows, or perhaps as a fiancé. The decision is made, but time is allowed for God to “speak up.” The declaration is that this will happen, unless something unexpected be revealed, the default position is “yes.” “God, I am planning to go forward with this change. If I am wrong, please, please speak up, NOW!” I have decided that, in likeness to the ancient tradition, Lent is a good time for that final discernment.
God, if I’m wrong, you’ve got till Easter. “Speak now, or …”