When Britt and I moved to the US we had a lot of new things to get used to. Even Brittany who is American had to re adjust after just spending a quarter of her life at the time, living in a foreign country. In many ways it was much harder for her.
There was a lot to get used to including the weird money, driving in straight lines for miles upon miles and not being able to just walk into a supermarket and buy packs of pancakes. You have to either go out or make them yourself at home. And I thought this was America, where anything is possible. Apparently not.
But we settled in, got used to the ridiculous cold, reconnected with old friends, enjoyed Chilis a little too often and found jobs to get ourselves feeling normal and like this was now home. We had family both here and back home who supported us in immeasurable ways, including financially and literally giving us a roof over our head.
It took at while, but we got there.
There was one element of our life back home that wasn’t quite so easy to replicate, though. That was church.
We had come from a young, small church by American standards in a city where you bumped into each other everyday and could walk or cycle everywhere. We moved to metro Detroit, where literally you need a car or you’re staying at home watching hours of adverts, occasionally interrupted by actual TV programs.
We wanted exactly what we had back home. We found our regular coffee shops but when we’d walk in we didn’t bump into our friends that often. It just wasn’t the same. We didn’t really even try and look that hard for a church. We would try for a couple of months here and there, and would even go two weeks in a row sometimes, but something was stopping us from really sticking it out. Maybe it was things like the time a greeter told me to smile as I walked into church. It took everything in me to not reply that I had lost (insert close family member), just yesterday.
I for one, just wasn’t that interested in church anymore. I was fine without it.
There are lots of reasons why people stick around at a church. The size is one. Sometimes a church can be so big you can get lost and no one will notice you. Perfect. Others are too small and everyone knows what is going on with you. Ehhhh. Again, some churches are so big that you can get lost and unnoticed. Lonely. Then again, they can be so small that you can know what is going on with people around you, creating intimacy and healthy vulnerability.
Others stick around because of the music. They don’t play enough Hillsong, or too much Hillsong. They sing the great, feel it in your gut hymns of Wesley and Newton, or they play the old fashioned boring hymns of Wesley and Newton.
Then there is of course the preaching style. The Pastor preaches straight from the Bible. Or the Pastor preaches straight from the Bible. It’s Calvin, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Non Denominational. We’re a Bible Church. No, we’re a Bible church.
Really though, we all know of course that the real deciding factor for any church should be coffee.
But for me, none of those things are that important. Sure, I have a style of music that I prefer, and yes the size does matter and of course, the theology of the Pastor can be crucial but those things aren’t deciding factors. For me at least. Like my friend Dan recently told me, we have access to so many books and online sermons from some incredible teachers and preachers if we want to be challenged and intellectually exercised. Similarly, the music may not be to my taste but who cares when I have access to other music that speaks to me in a real way.
These are things we can all get anywhere, anytime.
These are all things that at the end of the day, our enjoyment and fulfillment from comes down to consuming them.
One thing that is a little more tricky is community.
Because community can not be consumed. It needs to be experienced.
I may not always like the style of music or preaching but unless I have a group of people around me who I can be completely open and honest with, I don’t see much point in church. I don’t mean the fake type of being open and honest that most churches encourage. I mean the church where I can tell someone, “I’m not sure God cares at all”, or where I can deconstruct my faith without someone trying to “save” me.
Or the community where we get together and share meals without the need to make them Spiritual, all the while the very act of eating together is Spiritual enough in itself.
It took a while but Britt and I have finally found this. I knew it deep down, but the moment I knew it was when I went on my own one week recently and wasn’t nervous about stepping through the doors. If you know me, this is not easy. I need a security blanket of someone I really trust in most social situations. The fact I was able to do this alone, showed me that the people I had formed friendships and bonds over the previous months, were not people that I felt on any level, I needed protection from.
The fact that I didn’t realize it at the time but later, was everything I needed to indicate I was home.
I feel like I don’t need to fit into a certain theological niche. I don’t feel like I need to enjoy a certain style of music. I don’t feel I need to be into certain brands. I don’t feel like I need to speak a certain way. I don’t need to dress a certain way.
This is a completely new experience for me, and I love it.
It is my hope that everyone finds this. And of course, for some the things that aren’t that important to me anymore, are still critical. I get that. That doesn’t make them wrong or me right.
But ultimately, like the great 90’s worship song reminds us, the music fades. The sermon is over, or the coffee and donuts run out. The stage is stripped down, the lights go out and the doors close for another week.
It’s the small matter of life in the six days in between where we really find out where home is. This is where community is essential. I hope you find it like we did. If you want to join us, let me know. If not, that’s ok too. Create your own. Ask someone for help. Ask someone, how can I help? Make someone a meal, take someone’s kids (with their permission) for the day. Put your arm around someone when they cry. Don’t try and fix them. Don’t speak. Speak. Do these things and sooner or later you’ll realize something profound.
You’ve been in church the whole time.