for release September 28, 2001
NOTE TO EDITORS:
This is the 3rd part of the 3-part series: "New in the Neighborhood."
by Melodie Davis
Where Everybody Knows My Name: Finding A Church Home
When I was growing up, our church always had a farewell dinner for long time members who moved away.
"We're having a welfare dinner!" one of my siblings announced by mistake one day.
A farewell dinner is a wonderful gesture and send-off for someone moving. However, the warm memories and long history with that church can make you feel especially lonely in a new community. The friendships and deeply spiritual experiences you associate with your old church may make you feel like you're leaving behind a part of your being.
But you and your family make a move. Whether forced on you or a move of your own choosing, finding a new church home is sometimes very difficult. It may be something that you don't think much about ahead of time, but is actually very important to finding a sense of community and belonging in a new place, at least for the religious person. One man, Ian, wrote, "This [finding a new church] has been the hardest part of moving."
Why can it be so hard to find a church home every member of the family likes? You want to find a church that is welcoming and with a style of worship that you appreciate, but where the leaders are not on a power trip or worse, part of a cult. With all the churches and groups that are out there, how do you find a place where you not only feel at home, but also are "safe"?
It is important to keep an open mind when approaching a church hunt. You may have in mind "I want only a small church" or "I like to be in a big church where there are lots of programs and where I won't be asked to be on every committee right away." But sometimes even large churches have ways of "feeling small." My pastor visited a 9,000-member church recently and said the layout of the sanctuary made everyone feel close. Members participated in smaller groups where people could find a special niche or place to belong. Be open to new opportunities as you move to a new city or province. Ian wrote (on an Internet discussion group, www.fni/com/worship <http://www.fni/com/worship>), "[My wife and I] had both grown up in our last church-with lively worship and good teaching. Ideally we knew we'd be most comfortable in a similar church."
But Steve responded to him, "When my wife and I moved, at the very least we decided we wouldn't be attending a 'dead old downtown' church. Well, I'm slowly learning that I need to quit saying, 'I won't ever. . .'" They eventually did decide to attend the downtown church and even though they weren't totally happy -- they didn't feel inspired by the teaching, the service was slow and stodgy-Steve concluded: "Sometimes we can find a church home that isn't so much about having our own needs met as about how we can serve the needs of others." Looking back, he said, "The years at this church led us to a much deeper maturity, many lasting friendships, and had us in position to move to our current place." If you have any kind of disability or special need, finding a new church can be especially challenging.
Overall, a good approach for finding a church is asking for the recommendation of friends or new work colleagues. Give yourself a set time period to find a new church home. If you agree that you are going to spend 3-6 months "church shopping," then you don't feel pressured to make a decision with the first church you check out. Most churches deserve a 2nd try before you rule them out entirely. Then if you are pleasantly surprised, you can always call off your church shopping experience.
Children often make a difference in how long you extend this experience: most kids find it stressful and uncomfortable to go to a totally new place each week. And don't try to find the "perfect" church, because it is not out there. Instead, consider how you fit with a particular church and whether you can become meaningfully involved using your particular gifts.
The Internet is useful to find out not only locations and names of churches in whatever town you move to, but their particular strengths and emphases. You can probably find negative and positive aspects to most any group if you look on the web.
For help in finding churches of any denomination, visit www.forministry.com. For information on Mennonite churches visit www.thirdway.com.
Comments? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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