by Michele Morin
Slightly hard of hearing in his Sunday suit and tie, the smiling usher boomed a greeting into the cold and cavernous narthex.
“You forgot to set your clocks ahead, right?”
Immediately, the disjointed pieces of that chaotic Sunday morning fell into place. The full parking lot, the prevailing hush — yes, we were an hour late for church, which meant we had arrived just in time for the sermon conclusion and the last amen. Wearing our awkwardness like ill-fitting choir robes, we exited as discretely as two people wearing dress shoes can manage in an echoing church entryway, and we rode in silence across town to our tiny apartment on Middle Street — an address that had become an accurate and stinging summary of our entire lives in that season.
A career change for my husband had put our workplaces over two hours apart, but we’d cheerfully split the difference and settled in neutral territory exactly half way between, telling ourselves it was temporary and a good test of our independence within this new marriage of ours. No friends, no family, no church ties anchored us in this new home base, but we were optimistic, so . . .
Let the church hunt begin!
Throughout that autumn and winter, we visited a dizzying array of Sunday morning worship services. We sat on cushioned pews and on folding chairs. We sang 90s era praise choruses and traditional anthems from tattered hymnals. We visited churches where we came and went unnoticed and unwelcomed, and we cringed under the scrutiny of probing questions about our “intentions” and hints that it was time for us to join and get busy.
By the time of our early spring visit to The Church of the Booming Narthex, we had worn ourselves pretty thin. More and more often, we would open our eyes on Sunday morning and say, “Let’s go visit your folks this weekend.” We wanted to worship in a place that felt like home, but the process seemed endless and hopeless.
Fast forward to the present moment, and that season of uprooted-ness reads like a story out of someone else’s life. Furthermore, the past twenty years of joyful ministry and membership with a loving church family could easily put me in the judgment seat over this tale of a young, newly-married couple playing “church roulette” for over a year. Thankfully, the memory of Middle Street living has endured, and it keeps me from wagging my boney church-lady finger.
Yes, we probably were looking for the “perfect church,” and yes, we definitely had commitment issues, but even in those pre-Google, search-the-yellow-pages days, there was nothing simple about cold canvassing a city and its surrounding area for a friendly and compatible church. It’s far too easy to get caught in a never-ending research phase or to cave in to pressure to “hurry up and settle.” I wish we had made a very short list of non-negotiables and that we had been more aware of the masterful way God uses imperfect people and places in His process of conforming us toward the perfect image of His Son.
Those endless months of Sunday morning upheaval were foundational to my desire today to be the one who extends the welcome, however imperfectly. Scribbling names in my planner when I meet someone new at church sometimes helps me to remember them, but I still might greet repeat visitors as if they were new. (No one has ever complained.) I want to pay attention, be available, respect boundaries, and most of all, I never want to forget what it felt like to be rootless.
We really do need each other in our living out of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Christians who are living in the on-ramp toward faithful church attendance and those of us who are standing along the way cheering them forward are both in a unique position to put the beauty and uniqueness of God’s love on display. Finding community can be a long and challenging process, but the rewards are worth the wait.
Robert Frost wrote a poem in which he calls home “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Because I have been “taken in” so faithfully, it’s now a joy to persevere in the work of making my own church home feel like home to others. Community is the sandpaper by which we find ourselves continually being re-made and re-formed, for the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings for home.
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. Connect by following her blog at Living Our Days, or via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Cover photo by Milind Kaduskar on Unsplash
There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to church! Join us via Zoom on Saturday, January 15th. Click the link below to learn how you can join the conversation:
I loved this Michele, both what you expressed and the beautiful way in which you did it, thank you!
You are so kind! I would never volunteer to repeat that season, but I know it formed us in some very important ways.
We went through the same process when we retired and moved four states away. Who knew that even in a good-sized city it would be so difficult to find a church home?! The search took us ten months. This statement stood out in neon lights from your post, Michele:
God has a masterful way of using “imperfect people and places in His process of conforming us toward the perfect image of His Son.” AMEN to that! The church is a place where we get to practice grace and forgiveness–and also practice receiving it.
Oh, thank you for sharing your own experience of confronting your warts-and-all forgiveness and acceptance in God’s family that keeps you loving the unlovely.
Finding a new church has been the hardest part of any move for us. I agree that not being greeted or noticed and the opposite extreme of being surrounded have made me want to strike that middle ground–welcoming but not smothering or intimidating.
None of our churches have been perfect–part of their sandpaper effect, I guess. But, like you say, being “taken in” and having it become like home is a treasure.
I appreciate your fellowship in this following life, Barbara. And I agree that the toughest part of a move is finding a church home. I work very hard at remembering what it was like to be the new person and try to be welcoming without being overbearing.
Finding a new church home can be such a daunting task. And once you find that home, creating new relationships there can be even harder. It took me being the “new person” to really appreciate the value in the “older members” being friendly! 🙂
I hope we never lose sight of that, Lisa. I get discouraged sometimes over little things that matter not one whit to the mission of the Capital-C-Church, and it’s easy to get pulled into complacency or tribalism when you’ve stuck with a church for a long time. May it never be!
Finding community can be dauntless and hard process. Every time we move, we start church hunting. And it is neither fun nor easy. But when you find a community who cares and you when you feel you belong, that is when our new location feels like a home.
Interacting here in the comments has made me SO grateful for the deep roots we have in our home church. And I realize what a privilege it has been to live in one place for nearly 30 years…
So o didn’t catch whether you did find that church where you belonged! I assume you did.
It is hard to be in flux. We’ve done it many times. It’s hard on the kids too.
Ridge Haven Homestead
You’ve made a great point, Laurie. Our kids really thrive best when they have consistency and routine, particularly when they can form relationships with other adults who are saying the same things their parents are saying, but somehow they can receive it better from them.
So good to hear from you!
No matter the length of time we attended a church, while not the perfect church, it was always the perfect place for us to be. It is where God brought about growth in our lives, doing a work only He could do.
Oh, that’s so wise, Joanne. Sometimes we really need the experience of a not-quite-perfect-fit in order to show us what’s in our hearts. At any rate, our generation needs to lose the consumer mindset when we think about church attendance, and maybe the feeling of isolation we’ve had with such limited contact on Sunday mornings will renew our awe at the privilege of BEING the church! (I hope so!)
Finding the right church is definitely not easy! This post has brought to mind some of my experiences of that. It took a long time to find a church where I really felt welcome but it was worth persevering!
I’m glad we both share the conclusion that the angst and the awkwardness of searching for a church home end up being SO WORTH IT in the end.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve been planted at my current church for 23 years, and before that, 20 years in my home church. But we did have a season in the midst of those years where we lived away from home for 3 years. I see now how we were blessed because the first church we visited became the church we stayed at for those 3 years.
I love what you said: “Community is the sandpaper by which we find ourselves continually being re-made and re-formed, for the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings for home.” At all three of these churches I was remade and reformed – and it’s a work still in progress. I vote YES! It is so worth it.
I vote yes, too! It occurs to me that our response to the hardships of community reveals our true beliefs about God’s good intentions toward us–even when we are wondering what he’s up to!
This post resonated with me since I am in a season of searching for a new church. My son, who was pastor at the church I was attending, stepped down at the end of the year. I know this journey is going to be hard, but fulfilling.
What a massive change for you–you’re losing your favorite pastor AND breaking ties with your community. I will definitely be praying for you!