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Friday, March 30, 2012

Searching for Home

So it's that time again. Friday evening, about 9:30 pm, when I go online, praying the internet works tolerably well enough to let me access church bulletins before the campus gets out of vespers and streams Doug Batchelor sermons till midnight. I search the web, pulling up the usual standbys, throwing out random facts as pages download. "Pastor ______ is going to be here, and the choir is singing there," or "Maybe we should go there instead, they're having an international potluck." We spend the next twenty minutes debating the merits of driving 50 minutes to hear a great sermon or staying closer to home and taking our chances with the unknown speaker.

And then the frustration begins to build. It's very typical of a Friday night for me. It shouldn't be, but that's reality. I don't want to go to church. So I've said it and now you can all fall over in shock, write me off the books, shun me for life. Or maybe, you're silently cheering because you understand.

I remember going to church as a young child, as a teenager, and my memories are much happier ones. I was involved, serving, needed and loved. Church was a looked-forward to part of my week. What went wrong?

Coming to the States, it was a culture shock at first and I quickly realized that integrating into a church wasn't as easy as it was when we were the favored ones, as the children of the foreign administrator, or when we attended church with three other international families, creating instant connections where in another time and setting there may have been none. It wasn't like attending church with our extended family, where we occupied half the church from the littlest cousin to my elderly grandmother. In the States there were cliques, just like in grade school, and if you hadn't grown up in the church, it wasn't going to be easy to "get in."

The first few years were quite dark, emotionally. I found myself empty, unable to give, and searching desperately for some way to be filled spiritually.

I won't say I didn't try, though. I went through the motions, joined small groups and ministries, smiled at strangers, played the piano, and told a children's story. But a few weeks into each attempt, I realized that, yet again, the homeless ministry had enough helpers, the pianists were more accomplished than I, the young adult group was composed of couples and families with small children, and while everyone meant well, nobody understood. I felt alone and unnecessary.

So I returned to sleeping in Sabbath mornings, arriving at church just in time to miss the lengthy uninteresting announcements but in time to put my tithes in the offering plate and listen to the special music. After church, I left as quickly as I could, as I had tired of standing in the lobby, smiling painfully at people as they made small talk and then carried on.

What is missing, then? I think I know, but I'm not sure how to remedy it. I am finding that in the States, you have to keep going regularly to one church to even reach the point that you feel comfortable there, like going to your favorite grocery store. Regular attendance won't guarantee community connection, though. It just means that people know who you are and don't ask you to sign the guestbook when you've been attending six months (albeit sporadically).

Ministry is another important way to feel a part of the church community. Unfortunately, I have said no too many times when a zealous nominating committee member called me up and asked me to help out. Now I find myself wanting to help, but not exactly sure how or where to start. I'm not sure I'm needed, and that is the saddest part of it all.

Connecting with others on a deeper level is also a very necessary part. Finding friends with whom you can share your realistic struggles, knowing someone is praying for you, being able to dialogue about spiritual things, or just sharing a meal together. My peer group has almost disappeared from the church, making it harder to establish those connections with people who are from the same generation.

I do need to add a disclaimer here (in case anyone from the church I attend is reading this!). While I struggle with a feeling of disconnect, I appreciate how the church embraces people who are living through difficult times. I have seen them support, love, and open their hearts to the hurting and for that I am grateful. Perhaps it is easier to recognize the pain when it is death, illness, or a lost job. There are individuals in that church who genuinely care about others and who I feel blessed to know.

Thankfully I've found a church to attend tomorrow, so, for another week I can breathe easy. It doesn't seem right, though.

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