Monday, November 3, 2008

No Good Title but It's a Long One

I have no title for today's post. I'm not entirely sure where I will end up with all of this. A lot is weighing on my heart these days. I feel like I am losing or have lost my church home. I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran. My grandfather is a retired Lutheran pastor so the faith was a very important part of the family culture. In high school, I branched out and began attending youth group with a friend- I forget what denomination it was but it definitely wasn't Lutheran. My step-dad brought Catholicism to the family. He was and is a very devout and serious Catholic. So church was part of my childhood, my development. My relationship with God has always been strong, even and especially when I have faced trauma, chaos, and even what I consider to be Hell. In college, I stepped away from church. I began to very seriously question what had been taught to me. I was meeting, for example, gay people who went to church and loved God and it made no sense to me that I should believe that these God-loving individuals should be judged to damnation in hell because of love. I started reading and researching and talking. And I stopped going to church. I graduated from college and still didn't go to church. I moved away from my hometown and finally felt ready to begin looking. Again, my faith remained strong. My personal relationship with Christ remained in tact. It wasn't until Easter weekend of 2004 that I found something that finally seemed right. I had become friends with a man in a play (Daniel) and he told me about his church. He was as open minded and liberal as I was so I figured this church had something to offer. So I went to service on Good Friday. And kept going after that. I sought counseling from the pastor after my miscarriage and knew I had found a church home. I wasn't ready to commit myself fully but I was ready to at least attend regularly. Not long after, I decided to become a member of the church. It was a big and important decision for me. My children were baptized in this church. I've envisioned my kids growing up with this church family. But I feel like my foundation has been rocked. My church is a new church and is in desperate need of funds. I give monthly, as much as I can, and extra when I have it. They are starting a 3 year capital campaign. They are asking for people to go beyond tithing (regular giving, usually a percentage of one's income) and into sacrificial giving (finding something additional, giving up something in order to give more to the church for a committed period of time). I struggled with this because it has been difficult for me to get to a point where I give what I feel I can afford each month and there have been months where giving is harder on the budget than others. But I understand that it needs to be done. And in these hard times, there are still folks who are doing a lot of discretionary spending and have more options for making some sacrifices. It would be a struggle for me to find something to sacrifice- I don't do daily Starbucks spending, I don't color my hair, I don't have a cleaning woman (all examples of discretionary spending according to the guy heading up the campaign). But I can work through the money thing. Several years ago, in ongoing efforts to continue the growth of the church, we started a second service. Initially, the early service was just the same as the second service. For the first year, there was growth and many families seemed to be choosing to attend that earlier service. However, our pastor felt that we were missing a segment of the population. The services offered were both contemporary services with no hymnals, lots of contemporary music with the band, no liturgy, etc. So we designed a classic service for that earlier time slot. Hymnals, a smidgen of liturgy. Attendance plummeted. The wanted to redesign the service after the second year and I joined the committee to help. Communication was strongly lacking and I ended up only attending 2 meetings. But the service didn't change much. They asked the congregation to commit to attending early service as a mission. Commit to it for 6 months to help it grow. I did. It was a small service. Very small. But it was intimate and we knew everyone there. And I had just recently begun to see some new faces, new families. A sign of potential growth. Slow, of course. I didn't realize, until last week, just how important that early service was to me. As part of this campaign... in efforts to pursue further growth in the church... they did away with our early service. And gave one week of warning. We are sitting in church on Sunday and at the end of service, our pastor announced that we will only have the later service starting the following week. I was stunned. And shocked. Crushed. I was having a very hard time making sense of it and was very surprised at how strong my reaction was. But I decided to stick with it, give it a chance, see how it felt. We attended church this past Sunday, the entire family. And we left early. My sadness was that we were hardly greeted by anyone- including the people who already know us. There is a big meet and greet time as part of each service. In our early, intimate service, you got to say good morning to everyone there. There was hugging and hand holding. Intimate, connected. People knew us, knew my kids. Teagan had become comfortable with these people and, on a good day, would connect and say hello. She had started to go up for the children's sermon by herself, no longer insisting that she needed Mommy with her. This past Sunday was the kick off for the big 3 year fundraising campaign. They didn't have a children's sermon. Teagan was disappointed- I had prepped her, telling her about all the kids that would be up there with her... she isn't ready to head off to Sunday School yet. She sat and colored and watched the other kids run off, watched from the outside as these other kids, who had attachments and friendships in place, skipped and laughed and "knew." Then they showed a recently produced video that is the big "selling" piece for the campaign. It was all from the second service folks. The early service people were completely skipped over. No one from "my" service had been included. This added to the hurt of "my" service being dumped. Then "church" started. Jeff got uncomfortable very quickly, as did I, because the entire service was about money. 45 minutes in and we had sung 2 songs and listened to a lot of talk about money, money, money. My church's mission is to reach out to the un-churched and de-churched. I fall into that category, as does Jeff. And this campaign is de-churching us. The decisions being made are making me feel shoved to the side. So I am conflicted. Unsure. Very sad. We actually left church early, my decision. I just couldn't bear the sadness I was feeling, the disconnectedness. Maybe a new and growing church isn't right for us? Maybe I need to find a church home that is already established and secure and that already has roots? And other random things that have added to my deep thinking and sadness... First, my daily check in of the blogs that I read brought me to Today on the Interwebs. A link to an article about slavery in the world today. Sex slaves are what the media focuses on but the problem goes deeper. According to the article... there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history. Talk about starting the day on a depressing note. Then I pop over to The Pioneer Woman. The overwhelming Basset Hound cuteness is cheering me up. I continue to scroll down and read her entry from the weekend about her husband and daughters and the mission work they are heading off to do in the Dominican Republic with a group called Compassion, International. In the course of their work, they will get to meet the children that they actually sponsor. Very heart warming... but also depressing because of the attention drawn to the ongoing need for sponsors for children there (and all over the world). So I am in a down mood today. Not so much down. Contemplative. Seeking answers. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw last night that I asked for answers and I have gotten some good ones (chocolate on strawberries, glass of red wine, and yes dear being personal faves). But the answers I need have to come from within and from above. I just hope that my heart and soul are open so that I can hear them.

3 comments:

W. E. B. Du Blag said...

I just read that whole thing. I'm sorry you've had such a crappy day, and I'm sorry to have added to it. Hopefully you'll find something to lift you up.

(Incidentally, I glanced at your other pictures, and it seems you have been blessed with beautiful children. :)

Also, that's too bad the church is going all money-money-money on you. I hate that "homeless" feeling, but maybe it's time to find another home for worship... It sounds like the institution is getting in the way of the message. Or perhaps they'll change their ways. I don't have any answers, but I appreaciate your reading, and whatever happens, best of luck.

Lynn Freeman said...

Liz,

I read this a couple of times, unsure how to respond - or even if I wanted to at all. But I did have something I wanted to share and, if it helps, then great. If not, then my fingers got a workout I guess LOL

I'm sorry that this situation has caused you such sadness and worry. But I think you know me well enough by now to have heard my "things like this happen for a reason" spiel. I hang tough to that belief, so try searching within yourself to find that reason. The reason why you feel conflicted, mainly. Perhaps this may be biased as I remain jaded to this day by my experience but I'll share anyways because it has brought me to my current views and practices when it comes to churchgoing. Let me preface by saying that I do have faith and I do believe strongly in God. I am not a "practicing" Christian but I do believe that, when the times comes, I will join my heavenly father (I hope!).

When I was a child I was FORCED to go to Sunday School. To the point of tears and temper tantrums because I absolutely hated it. But it was forced upon me so my parents could have their Sunday mornings to themselves while we were off learning all good things. The only thing I learned was that I didn't want to go to church. I don't know when it stopped but my brother and I stopped going. But then sometime in my early teen years, I think through my good friend whose mother was a "born again" Christian, I found my way back to church. The same church I went to as a child. But it was different. I WANTED to go. I wanted to listen to the sermons and to sing the songs and to share in the love and passion for God that I felt there. It was an evangelical church so it was very uplifting and spiritual and positive. And perhaps at that time in my life when I needed that the most, that is the reason why I found myself back there. I'll never forget the day I "gave myself to God". At the end of every sermon we would have a prayer session to music and the pastor would ask for those who were ready to commit their lives to God to raise their hands while everyone's heads were bowed so that no one should be ashamed to come forward. I did one day. And then I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was my neighbour across the street. I have NEVER felt such a wave of emotion and faith and love and hope in one minute as I did that day. The next hours I spent with him and the pastor were a blur....I can't really recall anything but being in such a great place - like I'd found something new - something that would make me a different person and give me a different life. And it did in many ways for a long time. I continued going to that simple church with a pastor I loved listening to and then I got to dating age and I quit going. When I was ready to marry, I went back to that church and asked that pastor to marry me and so he did a year later. I had forgotten what it was like to be in that church and felt a warmth I hadn't felt in a while so I frequented it again every Sunday and sometimes Sunday evenings too! But then it happened. The church wanted to renovate and expand and build and turn into something the likes of which none of its fellowship had ever seen. And it was truly spectacular. I remember that it was all deep purple - carpeting and walls. Deep mahogany wood, a new brass organ, new leather pews and seats - it was a sight to behold. Ceilings 4 stories tall with a large suspended cross that was magnificent. But it came with a price. A hefty one. And the membership was asked to help "finance our new house of God". And it became the focus more and more intensely as weeks passed into months and eventually into a year. At about the second year, it came to light that the church couldn't afford to pay back the debt it accumulated and keep running week to week and if something "miraculous" didn't happen then the bank would be closing the doors. The membership really stepped up. In a matter of 6 months the church was saved. Then....it all came to light. The exhorbitant salaries of the pastor and his wife and his "administration". How the information became public I do not know. But when it did, it was like the Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker scandal all over again. The church was never in danger of being foreclosed on. The only danger was that our trusted pastor of many, many years was worried about his annual stipend. I don't remember the number but I remember the public outcry and disgust about what he'd done. And the membership slowly faded away. I have to admit that, although I didn't know him well, I felt hurt and betrayal as if it was my own father taking my money. When did religion and worshipping God become about money and big, fancy churches? When did it become about building the biggest, brightest church to outdo the rest? About building a congregation to outnumber the other churches? Where did this competition come from? That isn't what a House of God is meant to be. And, so, I left the church. And, oddly enough, the pastor that ripped us off in more ways than one, now practices here in Calgary and has his own TV show! Anyways....what I'm trying to get at, in my own very long-winded way, is that I remain jaded as to the relationship between money and God. It sure does take money to run a church....but when is enough enough? What are they doing with that money - and are they being genuine and true in spirit and motive? You hate to ask that question, but I point back to my experience. We all trust men of God - I know I still do. But there's still that corner of me that will NEVER forget how someone could betray almost the most holy of trusts. I'd much rather go to a simple, country, small church that focuses on the principles I believe in regarding worship and family and life than participate in building an "empire". I'm not saying that's what your church leaders are doing. I'm just saying, that if you open yourself up like you want, you may find that you are able to look at your situation in many different aspects and find the answer that is right for you. But it's a tough one for sure. I hope you are able to find one.

Lynn

Daniel said...

Hey! I just found my way here after checking your facebook page. I think we all get to this place every so often. I've been in it for awhile. I'm not sure that I have anything useful to say... I haven't been to church for a few weeks... it must have coincided with the money stuff you're talking about here. The good news is - I didn't hear any of it last Sunday. I don't think that the message is going to become all about that. I hope to see you there some more. Familiar faces are starting to fade away... We gotta keep the liberal torch lit at the promise!