aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Thoughts on being unchurched

So, as a retiree from the pastorate, I find myself unchurched again. It's been a long while. Deanne and I finally bestirred ourselves to go to a nearby church last Sunday, to begin the dreaded and uncomfortable job of figuring out how to live out our commitment to Christ.

Honestly, if it weren't for that little, nagging thing -- that commitment -- I wouldn't bother with church at all. Having concluded one very involved congregational relationship, I am in no hurry to start another. I'm enjoying not having to get up and go to anything. And being an introvert, the idea of forcing myself to walk into a whole roomful of strangers is not very attractive.

Not only that, but given the upheaval in The United Methodist Church, a respite from all that is very welcome right now. On the other hand, I'm not very open to a lot of other brands of church, I don't think. If I have to do church, I'd like to find a congenial UMC within easy commute.

Our choices were: 8:45 a.m. traditional service at nearby suburban congregation; 9:30 a.m. service at medium-sized open country church; 10:30 a.m. service at congregation between those two; 11:00 a.m. contemporary service at the nearby suburban congregation. There's also a little family chapel-type UM church nearby, but I didn't check their worship time; I don't know if they even have a credentialed pastor, and I'm not looking to fill the position.

So, we went to the 8:45 a.m. traditional service at the nearby suburban congregation. Strike number one: that's way too early for a regular thing. Strike number two: there were no young people in the service at all. This was the older folk ghetto, the one all the church growth manuals talked about a few years ago. The received wisdom was: Old people will get up early while the young families won't, so put your traditional service first, then Sunday School, then your contemporary service.

Still, there were attractive things about the service. For one thing, I was astonished how many people recognized me -- and more through Scouting than through church. That's a plus. People were friendly and welcoming. The music staff led actual hymns that were well-done. I like the pastor, though I don't know him well. This could be a comfortable fit.

Observations from a newcomer.
1) The announcements went way too long. I don't know people, and I don't know what's going on, so listening to all that in-house stuff just made me impatient to get things going.

2) Protestant worship is so talky. There is no mystery, no awe. We just cover over everything with blather.
Neither of these things is a deal-breaker. But coming cold to the job of church-shopping, instead of being the one shopped, I see them with fresh eyes. If I were pastoring again, I would really try to tighten things up. If you want newcomers to feel comfortable, you need to watch how comfortable you are letting yourselves become. It feels slovenly and un-inclusive, at least without the divine encounter to counterbalance it.

About that divine encounter: I think Christ was on vacation, too. I mean, I went there to meet him, but he seemed to be out somewhere else. In fact, his absence was nearly total.

The sermon mentioned Jesus/Christ exactly once -- in a passing reference to the Rich Young Ruler, whose entry into the sermon was itself only a passing reference to the sermons in the series which preceded this one. This one was from the Old Testament -- which is fine -- but in all the very earnest references to "God has a plan for your life" and the need to be regular in prayer and reading the Bible and participation in church as a means of finding out what that plan is, Jesus apparently plays no part in it. I gotta tell ya: I understand how annoying it is to hear some eevanjellicle braying about Jeezus, Jeezus, but he IS the one who connects us to God. If he is not to be talked about, or even mentioned, why are we here? And why am I listening to your high-energy talk with the cool (if questionably relevant) movie clip, and all that? Desire to serve Jesus is the only thing that got my butt out of my cozy bed to come to your church and endure the social pain of facing a roomful of strangers. Where is he, and what has he got to do with this gathering? You know?

Along those lines, I really have to say that offering prayers "in your name" seems like a dodge. An annoying one. I understand that not all prayers have to use the formula "in Jesus's name." I understand that calling God "Father" is perfectly acceptable. For that matter, direct invocation of the Holy Spirit is also acceptable, as are various Old Testament formulations. But here again, Jesus played no part in the prayers offered in the service. Are we afraid that mentioning Jesus is too divisive? Are we embarrassed to pronounce his name? I'm willing to cut laypersons some slack here, since I generally don't criticize laity for how they pray. But offering public prayer is a professional skill, for which we elders take courses in seminary. Last I heard, Jesus had something to do with how our prayers are received in heaven.

Maybe we came on an "off" Sunday. I'm willing to give this congregation and pastor another dance, though Deanne said she wanted to visit the other places available, and I agreed with her. I still like the pastor. And I kinda like the congregation. But if I decided that that was going to be where we were going to go to church, I don't think I'd be terribly regular about going. I'm willing to put it all on the line for Jesus, but there wasn't enough There there for me to say that I'd be willing to put it on the line for that church, very often.

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