(Some of) Our Church Baggage

So in light of the fact that I've made such a big, public deal of the fact that Melissa and I are "church shopping," and especially after making such a big, public deal of naming and shaming the places we wouldn't be considering, I felt it was important to explain where we've been attending the last three weeks, and why we (after only three weeks) think that we may settle in already. I'm planning this as a 3-day series on my blog.

Today I thought it would be insightful to explain a little bit about my church background. I've already shared a bit about my faith journey (and lack of faith journey) on my blog here, but as much as my politics and half-decade of atheism influenced my wants and needs in a church, so too did my church experience prior to all that.

For starters: my family went to one church for something like four generations. The church where I was baptized, where my parents were married, was also the church where my great-grandfather participated in setting fire to the mortgage papers of the building he and his contemporaries had just paid it off. I remember joking that I might as well be an honorary member of the board because I knew so much of the inner workings of the place--as a pre-teen.

North Cove Boulevard Church of God was our home. I was there minimum three times a week. Services Sunday and Wednesday night, visiting my great-grandmother as she quilted with the other quilting ladies (thursday mornings?), and usually a drop-in or two in addition. I still remember every square inch of that building (save for the boiler room, kids weren't allowed in there). I have countless incredibly fond memories of attending North Cove, being baptized there, and developing a deep devotion to Christ and his church there.

Unfortunately, North Cove no longer exists. As a church we decided to move out of Toledo to the suburbs and build a large, modern, beautiful new building. The decision was hard and the task was daunting, but my mother played a very large part in its execution. We did it for the health of the existing church community, and so that we could hopefully reach others like us, who had (as most of us had) moved away from Toledo to the suburbs. My 95-year-old great-grandmother turned over the first shovelful of dirt.

Sometime thereafter, the newly re-named Heritage Church of God and its longtime pastor began to lose its way.

Mortgage payments are stressful. A megachurch buying and moving into the property next door is stressful. Losing a ton of money in some deal gone wrong is stressful. I understand. Unfortunately, the Church of God is a denomination that intentionally, or not, has utterly failed to notice problems or staunch the bleeding. The focus on un-checked independent local church means that no one has had to account for the fact that the pastor of this church has stopped preaching biblically sound teachings, allowed his church to devolve into an almost cartoonishly virulent hotbed of gossip, bullying, and infighting, driven away an impressive percentage of its original membership, and grievously injured countless wonderful people in the process.

This experience, which I have admittedly mostly only had to deal with second hand, has still had a tremendous impact on what I look for in a church. I have practical, as well as biblical, reasons to care about how a church is governed, and what it's relationship to other area churches and its denomination is. I have seen what lacking it has done to a community.

This, tied with my strong desire to find a church that was open to all, egalitarian in its understanding of gender roles (especially in church leadership), and my liberal politics led me to look to the mainline denominations.

But there was a complication there.

Melissa was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. She attended St. Paul's parish in Euclid, Ohio, made her first communion and was confirmed there. She also attended St. Paul's elementary school and worked in the church rectory.

This upbringing left her with a strong love for God, but a sometimes fraught relationship with his church. She witnessed a church office that seemed bizarrely consumed by money. The culture rubbed her the wrong way, to say the least. (And the dysfunction local seemed to eventually play out as dysfunction Diocesan as our regional bishop shuttered tens of parishes only for their congregants to either successful appeal to the Vatican to be re-opened, or to break away from Roman oversight entirely.)

Probably more importantly, she struggled to connect her church experience, filled as it was with its ritual, its recitation, and its old, old selection of music with the Jesus she heard about from friends who attended evangelical churches. She left the catholic church and discovered an even deeper faith in the passionate teaching and rousing worship of evangelicalism.

As we've lived together for the last three and a half years, however, we've found that our marriage resembles the egalitarian vision we've read about online far more than the complimentarian one we were taught to expect. And with this, we've looked hard at our desires in church and in life and with much prayer decided together that what we feel we needed in a church.

Somewhere we could seek mentorship from people whose marriages truly looked the way we wanted ours to look.
Somewhere with a contemporary style of worship we could both find moving.
Somewhere with robust programming for our daughter.
Somewhere with local and regional (at least!) oversight of doctrine and belief.
Somewhere with teaching that would challenge us to be better Christians instead of challenging us to stay (or stay awake).
And we think we've found the place.

YesterdayA look at the many churches I've visited or attended since moving to Cleveland, why I left them, and how they led me to keep looking.
Tomorrow: How we chose Mayfield Church, and why we already think we may stay.

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