It feels good to be in the right place. It feels good to be home.
The two primary pastors are Divine-designed ying and yang....one leads with his warm, warm heart supported by scripture, the other leads with his deep intellect supported by compassion. This congregation emphasizes Joy (with a capital "J"), unflinching inclusiveness, and above all, servant ministry to family and friends, to the strangers among us, and to our local and world communities. Ron and I couldn't feel more fed by the sermons, which are rich with meaning and message, humanity and humor, and God's Word.
But I've discovered something more on this journey to find and fit: the sacraments mean something. They are Holy.
Let me explain: Until 2000, I was a lifelong attender of Presbyterian churches, and a member of two from 1975 to 2000. It was my experience that baptism was a occasion for adorable babies, and that the Lord's Prayer and various creeds were recited rotely and without thought. The Gloria Patri was sung with boredom, and much of the music was akin to Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion" theme song. Parishioners argued incessantly over drums or no drums, casual or business casual dress, caffeinated or decaf, and endless what-not. (Trust me on the endless what-not...ordained as both an elder and deacon, I likely sat through a hundred or more meetings.)
In a word, it was joyless. It felt like God had left the building.
So in 2001, we went church-shopping, and stayed for four years at a new-style evangelical mega-church that our fifth grade daughter wanted to attend.
First let me say, the music was invariably delightful and moving beyond words. Many sermons were insightful, enjoyable and certainly biblical. And some wonderful, Godly people are members of the mega-church.
In four years, we never saw or heard of a baptism, which was considered a superficial. Communion was celebrated only a couple times yearly. And never once did we recite the Lord's Prayer or the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds. At first, this felt freeing. But after a while, I missed them. Then, I really missed them. And I knew that God was whispering to me....
MInistries to serve the poor, the homeless and the hungry were almost non-existent. Servant ministries meant doing work around the church for fellow attenders or staff, not for the outside community or world. Community outreach was defined as bringing or inviting others to attend this church. I once confided in a few that I was active in literacy programs at the local public library. Several were astonished (and a tad horrified) that I would give time to the public library rather than the church library.
I'll never forget the deliberate and rampant nepotism present in every aspect, every program, every decision, every single action of that church. It's an entirely different leadership model that I've ever seen or heard of in a church. The nepotism led to interpersonal dynamics completely foreign to my 50 years of church experiences. It led to cliques, intransparencies, vast insularity, and imperviousness to fresh ideas and flexibility. And it led to constant judgment of those outside the mega-church.
And then....my blood still boils about this....in Fall of 2004, the church allowed Focus on the Family-sponsored and legally-sanitized voter registration booths to operate outside the sanctuary after Sunday services. I kept my mouth shut....speaking up wouldn't change their actions, and would only make waves for my poor family. Conservative politics on the church steps, heartily approved by the pastors. They should've just hung a sign: Inclusiveness not practiced here. (Wait...maybe they did.)
The high school program to which Andrea was headed to was not.....healthy. She felt and knew that as strongly as we did. (I'll leave that one alone in this blog.)
While we dutifully completed our obligations, we carefully researched and called churches in the area, embarrassed to again be church-shopping.
In June 2005, when we attended Messiah Lutheran Church for the first time, we were promptly met by Pastor Ron, who chatted with us for a few minutes before service. We left with a CD of snazzy praise songs by some of the musical ministry team, smiles and cheery greetings from many, and a good feeling.
The Lords' Prayer is said with fervor each week, and the pastors don't appear bored. Communion is taken twice monthly, and it's a sacred time. Joy infuses worship, study, play and service. The Holy Spirit is present.
We know that churches are not perfect, and that pastors are fallible people, just like the rest of us. We know that programs can't be and aren't designed to suit just a few. (We've learned that Lutherans are not particuarly expressive during praise songs.) And we know that, like all living organizations, churches go through cycles of feast and famine, good times and bad.
We made a commitment today. We will be there, as God has called us there.
We are grateful and quite thrilled.