I haven’t had a “home church” for about 15 years. I’ve sporadically visited several different churches during that time. So far, I’ve been to:
- Normal Mennonite churches
- A hippie Mennonite church
- Non-denominational evangelical churches
- A Non-denominational evangelical coffee house church
- Lutheran churches
- A Catholic church
I’m not even going to lie. Every one of those visits was painful. I think I have post-traumatic church disorder or something because walking into a church building seriously freaks me out.
How I Visit a New Church
- Do some online church stalking. Do they have a Facebook page? An online newsletter? Pictures of the congregation? Does the word “inerrant” show up in the Statement of Belief?
Choose a church and decide to visit the following Sunday.
Wake up to the alarm clock beeping. Have anxiety attack. Turn off alarm clock and go back to sleep.
Try again the next Sunday. Make it into the shower before the anxiety attack starts. Decide to try again next week.
Drive by the church building during the week to “scope it out” even though this gives me absolutely zero information.
Drive up to the church on Sunday morning. See cars in the parking lot and people walking into the building. Panic. Pull a U-turn in the parking lot and head home.
Make it into the church. Hide out in the back and hope I don’t accidentally say “lead us into temptation” while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Go through the bulletin and pick it apart looking for clues that will tell me what this church is really like. Panic during the passing of the peace and salute the pastor.
Awkwardly hover beside the door on my way out because I’m not sure if I really do want to talk to any of the members or not. After a few minutes of this, mentally shrug and go home.
To complicate things a little more, I’m not quite sure where I’m going to land on some theological issues. I want to connect with other Christians, but I don’t want to have to “fake it” in order to be accepted into a church. I don’t want to expose myself to the level of judgement that I know exists in many churches when I don’t even know if I’ll be sticking around with them.
I’ve gotten some flack for not attending church, but where do you go when church isn’t a safe place?
Halfway House for Wilderness Wanderers
A couple of years ago, someone added me to a Bible Discussion Facebook group… which was pretty weird. I wasn’t exactly a big fan of Christians at the time. Sure, I wanted to talk about religion with other people, but I didn’t think I belonged in a group with good church going folk. My first post to that group was along the lines of, “Are y’all sure you want me in here?” (Some of them regretted saying “yes” soon after that.)
Some of the people in that group were the kind of Christians I was used to. But, a few of them weren’t what I was used to. A few of them didn’t get offended when I got a little (or a lot) irate. A few of them didn’t pat me on the head and tell me to just “have more faith”. (And I only got called a Jezebel once, which is pretty dang good for me.)
I had a pretty rotten view of Christians because I’ve had some pretty rotten experiences with Christians. They were not safe people. They were people who could (and usually would) do a lot of damage. Connecting with Christians through social media has allowed me to dip my toe back in without much risk. I mean, what do I care if FundieLvr777 tells me, “Get thee behind me, satan”?
I think of these online communities as a kind of religious halfway house. They’ve allowed me to slowly reintegrate without jumping into the deep end of the pool (and risk drowning). It’s done a lot to soften my attitude and chip away at some of my anxiety. I’ve gotten to know some wonderful people (seriously, some of them could run circles around me, but they won’t admit it because they also have way more humility than I do). I’ve even connected with people who have stories similar to mine.
I’ve spent the last two years annoying Christians through Facebook and reddit. It’s not church, but it’s something. It’s not worship, but it’s a step toward worship. It’s not a physical community, but it is a form of community. (There are real, live people behind those computers after all.) I may not be singing in the Sunday morning choir (you and your ears should be thankful for that), but at least I’m connected in some way to the greater body of believers out there. For right now, I’m out here in the wilderness on my own, but I’m not out here all alone.
Photo credit: Steve Osmond (flickr, Creative Commons)