Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fellowship or Worship?

Jesse and I went back to our old church today for the Thanksgiving service and meal. It's been over six months since we've been there. We attended a few other churches this summer in trying to find a new church home, and while we found one we love, it doesn't seem like the completely right fit. I grew up in this church, as did my mother and her mother. Jesse came to faith there, all three kids were baptized there, and the older two were confirmed there. It has a lot of history and memories for us; unfortunately not all are good, and that's why we left. Four years ago, we threw ourselves head first into the church and the youth group. We were part of nearly every commitee, Jesse was the lay leader. I was the confirmation teacher/youth group leader. And we loved what we did. We made plans to go places, have retreats, do mission work, all sorts of things to deepen the kids' faith and spread the Gospel. But we ran into church politics and got our feelings hurt. Eventually we got burned out. I was sick, so we didn't go to church often anymore, but it was just a convenient excuse. After Molly finished confirmation, we hit the road to find a church more in line with what we felt we needed: a community of fellow believers, genuine worship experiences, activities for the kids, a place that felt like home. We started going to a church in Green Bay that filled many of those qualities. Celebration Church definitely allowed us to worship in a way we couldn't back in the Falls. We raised and clapped our hands, swayed to the music, cried, laughed, and left feeling renewed. But the church is about an hour away, and other than Jesse's cousin Adam, we didn't know anyone there. So we'd have this fantastic worship experience and go home without being able to talk about it with anyone.

When Mia was sick in the hospital a few weeks ago, I wanted to call a pastor, but we don't know the one at Celebration that well, and we hadn't been to the Falls in so long, it felt like hypocrisy to call in a time of need. I've met the new pastor a few times through my job, and I genuinely like her. She's a nice person, and I feel like she cares about her parish. Coming back today, we felt a bit like the prodigal son. Lots of firm hugs and "we've missed you!". The fellowship within the church is unparalleled. Saying the Lord's prayer, I could hear behind me the voice of my confirmation teacher who is still a mentor to me today. Hearing a baby squeal, I turned around to see an elderly man who has struggled with illness again and again holding his first grandchild in his lap, and because I know his story, it brought tears to my eyes. Jesse and I were talking after we got home, and he said, "I didn't know how much that church meant to me until today." I replied with, "I didn't know how much I meant to the church until today." But the service is the same that it's been since I was a child. I do it by rote without much thought, and much of my thought was consumed by trying to keep Mia still. Not much time to worship and think about the Lord. The few people who were the impetus for our defection either ignored our presence or were so fake in their welcome it was painful. But the majority of the church welcomed us back with open arms and encouraged us to come back. My old Sunday School teacher said that she would be praying for us to return. I'm not going to find that kind of devotion in a large church.

So how do we reconcile our desire for worshiping the Lord with our need for fellowship with loved ones? I'm praying for answers.