My dad is a pastor, and I grew up at the church that he started when I was just a baby. It was a mission start congregation with its first gatherings meeting in the basement of our house. I was just born a month before the church was born, so I can't really say I remember this phase. I have been told that we carried all of the folding chairs and hymnals in our trunk though, so that mom could never use the trunk to hold her groceries.

The church grew as I grew and I have always loved this congregation. I was fully involved, fully known and fully appreciated by the family that made up Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

When I went to college I taught Sunday school at an local congregation. But it was hard to get to know people. I loved my third graders and the college friend I taught with. We had a great time in that classroom every Sunday, but worship was hard and I never really felt a part of the larger church there.

When I was at the seminary, I was assigned a congregation to volunteer at 10 hours a week. Because I had come from a growing, thriving congregation, I was told they were going to give me an opportunity to experience the other end of the spectrum. And that they did. It was a tough congregation. Things had been done the same for 100 years, and to suggest any different was not only insulting, but it was an insult to the dead relatives of the living members who made that the law 68 years ago. (sometime I'll write about my attempt to volunteer for the Swedish meatball dinner. Bad times.) The church was made up primarily of three big extended families and it operated similar to a very dysfunctional family reunion. On a postive note, I have heard that a new pastor has been called to this church and some cool things are now happening...

When Rory and I first got married we periodically attended a huge church in Burnsville, Minnesota. We liked the worship, the music, the preaching, but we were there only a handful of times, kind of tried to get involved, but nothing really ever clicked. During that time we also frequented my home congregation and Rory's home congregation, two churches that still love us to pieces and we love them to pieces too.

We moved out to Montana for a season and stumbled upon a tiny little church that we fell in love with from the start. I wrote all about it here. There was something about this little body of believers that felt so real. The music left lots and lots to be desired, but the preaching was good and the biggest thing was that we were known in that church. The 50 or so members were excited when we walked through the door and the feeling was mutual.

We have spent many Sunday's worshiping in different congregations just as a visitor. Rory and I both love visiting churches, seeing what God is up to in a congregation and enjoy meeting the people that make up a particular church. I also have spent lots of Sundays worshipping at a Bible camp while working on staff, and lots of Sunday's working at the nursing home, bringing men and women off of their floor down to the chapel to gather and break bread.

When we moved to Nebraska we quickly found a large congregation about 15 minutes from our house. The music was unbelievable, the preaching superb, the kids program above average. The Sunday morning worship was exactly what we were looking for. We have been a part of that congregation for a year now, and just at our one year mark we realized that after a year of trying, we still didn't really know anyone. We joined Bible studies, small groups, prayer meetings, and went to various gatherings, but the Bible studies all ended, the small groups seemed to fizzle and in the end we realized that we were playing the roles Sunday morning worshippers well, but truly were not actively a part of this community.

So we had a conversation last week, discussing how we wanted to be a part of a church in Gretna, where we live. A smaller church that we could really plug into. We are a part of a small group with our apartment neighbors who attend a community church down the road. Though we love that small group and love that church, Rory had visited another Gretna congregation once and kept talking about it.

So today we went and were immediately welcomed. Upon arrival we were passed from person to person as we were introduced to lots of people. We stayed for pizza after the service and then Rory stuck around for a few hours and helped move this church from their current space (store front) into a new building where the congregation will now meet to worship. We were apart of this one-year-old church's first move and it felt so good to be so involved.

We were looking for community and ways that we can use our own gifts within a worshiping body, and I am confident that this will happen. The worship was great, the music simple, the preaching solid and the people genuine.

I wanted to write all of this out after feeling the excitement of being welcomed and a part of a congregation. Because it really does amaze me how hard it truly is to find and then belong to a church. Rory and I are two outgoing, church-loving people and we have sincerely struggled with finding a church home. I think part of the problem is that we have been so nomadic, so our seasons at a church are short. And I would say that our different church backgrounds makes some difference, but honestly, we both are one in mind for what we appreciate and look for in worship. Our different denominational upbringings isn't really a huge deal as long as the church a Bible believing, scripture preaching, alive congregation.

So for those of you loving your church, keep an eye out for the new guy. And for those of you looking for a church to love, don't give up. I wrote my seminary thesis on the decline of denominational loyalty and how a lot of people are simply looking for a church they love more than a denomination to ascribe to. I would encourage you to find a church that you can plug in to, where you are an active part of the community and where you feel fed and nourished each week. I'll keep you posted on our transition into this new community of believers.


Melinda said...

What a wonderful post! My husband and I are kind of going through a similar situation. I've been at our church for about 7 years and my husband for about 3 (ironically, our church's name is Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, too!). We have a new pastor, who is great, but lately we've just not been feeling as fulfilled there. To add to the situation, we're at a point with our daughter when we would really like either a crying room or a nursery and our church offers neither. On the other hand, the people at our church are great people whom we really enjoy. Right now, we're deciding what we want to do--I'm finding the whole thing rather stressful. In some ways, your post help me put a few things in perspective. Thanks!

Becca Groves said...

Thanks for the comment, Melinda. I love when this thing turns conversational. My sister goes to a church that doesn't really have a nursery (they can be the childcare, if they choose...) and I know that is so hard when they just want to get to worship! I'll be thinking of you as you figure out where God is leading you...or keeping you.

Sara Tepfer-Nivala said...

I read your blog EVERYDAY and just wanted to share that your posts always seem to ring so true to my current place in this world... I thank-you for sharing your insight on life, you are such visionary that I believe all could learn from. You and your family will forever have a special place in my heart. You all set the model of what truly a church, family and community should be, and for that I thank-you!