Faith

Searching for fellowship

It’s been four months since my sons and I left North Liberty Christian Church to find a new place to be a part of the Christian family. I haven’t been enjoying the process. I’m introverted, and meeting lots of new people drains me. I have to admit, a couple Sundays when my sons were with their mother the thought of smiling and being friendly with strangers was unpleasant enough that I just stayed home.

For 15 years I’ve been a member of congregations with Restoration Movement roots – Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ. I had begun to feel stale in their worship experience, so I visited churches from many other faith traditions. This reminded me why the high ritual of some traditions and the high emotionalism of others don’t work for me, and led me right back to the Restoration Movement with renewed vigor. I’m a practical and intellectual man, and the Restoration Movement’s plain, reasoned, passionate faith resonates deeply with me.

This dramatically limited my choices, as there are only so many Restoration Movement churches near me. Many of those congregations lack a strong youth program for my sons. By process of elimination one congregation stood out: North Central Church of Christ.

First Pres

Restoration Movement churches are fairly conservative within Christendom’s broad spectrum. Legalism is a real and shameful problem in this fellowship’s most conservative wing, which is populated by certain Churches of Christ. My family worshiped with one such Church of Christ for several years when my faith was new. That’s where learned our lesson the hard way about why legalism isn’t God’s plan. The elders there found out about the circumstances of my wife’s prior divorce, and with support from certain verses from the Bible told us we had no right to be married. The stress of it caused us to start attending North Liberty Christian Church. The elders then sent us a letter declaring us apostate. Suddenly, members we had considered to be friends could not speak to us anymore. This was an extremely painful experience that was difficult to forgive.

Archconservative Churches of Christ are a shrinking minority, and everything I’d heard and read about North Central Church of Christ suggested that they were never in that group. But I still felt considerable trepidation simply because of the Church of Christ name. I attended by myself one Sunday, and heard a sermon that would have been at home in the Christian Church from which I came. I was also delighted to sing a cappella in four part harmony in worship, a distinctive practice of many Churches of Christ that I have missed terribly. So I visited again the next Sunday with my sons, and we’ve returned almost every Sunday since. I still have some niggling fear, but every week we worship there I feel more comfortable.

The congregation numbers about 500 – not too big, not too small. They have an active and vital youth group that I hope will provide encouragement and friendship for my sons. Adults in the congregation break into smaller groups to form the close relationships so necessary to strong Christian fellowship and encouragement in the faith. I was invited to a small group meeting a few weeks ago, and while logistical challenges make that group a poor fit for me I can see how much they care for each other and encourage each other in the faith. I hope that I can find a group I can attend regularly. I worked hard with the other elders at North Liberty to keep that shrinking congregation afloat, and I burned out. I am ready to simply be a member again and give and receive encouragement and love from my fellow Christians.

I’ve been approached about joining the congregation, and I attended their membership class not long ago. We’ll keep visiting North Central for a while yet until we feel fully comfortable. But so far, this looks promising.

Christians do more than anyone else to harm the cause of Christianity. Love heals the damage. Read my story about a loving Christian attracted me to the faith.

Last updated on 4 March 2020 by Jim Grey

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10 thoughts on “Searching for fellowship

  1. You will find your place amongst the congregation. You’ve been through a lot with that one church (some of their practices seem a little primeval) so I can see the apprehension in getting too comfortable with another. As long as you have YOUR faith and YOUR beliefs, then you’ll be fine. I can understand, it has to feel right. It’s always awkward starting out. When everyone is familiar with you and vice versa then I think it’ll work out. If it doesn’t, no sweat. You’ll just have to continue searching.

    • I’m sure we’ll find our place. You’re right; I have my faith, independent of any church’s peculiar practices. My previous Church of Christ experience ended so upsettingly, though, and I didn’t realize some residual upset remained until now.

  2. bwolper says:

    Jim,

    I enjoy your blog every week. You take me to places I have never been, places I find interesting.

    My prayers are with you and your kids to find the right place to make your church family. It is not an easy thing. As you seek God’s advice and comfort, it will be provided for you.

    Please continue to keep the blog coming. I look forward to it. Thanks.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    Jim, I admire your conviction to find the right place and not simply give up. I’m introverted myself and I sure appreciate what a strain it must be, throwing yourself into new situations over and over in an effort to find the harmony for your own natural key.

    Despite the fact that my own path has made me doubt the existence of a divinity, I can say that I miss the ceremony of worship. About ten years ago now, on the basis of some spiritual crises, I went through the effort of completing my confirmation as a Catholic… it just seemed the easiest because it was the course I was already on, since both my parents are (lapsed) Catholics. My metaphysical issues notwithstanding, to be frank, I found Catholicism far too conservative to be a comfortable fit… but I certainly did find comfort, peace, and something sublime in the Mass. On a few occasions, I’ve gone back to enjoy the service, but out of respect for the sincere beliefs of the parishioners, I’ve declined to take communion.

    I think if I had to do it again, or if I were to experience a true spiritual awakening, I’d probably seek a home in Anglicanism, which to my mind is most of the things I like about Catholicism and none of the things I don’t. Another possibility I’ve sometimes considered is the United Church (a century-old fusion of most of Canada’s Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist churches that is the largest Protestant denomination in the country). My dad’s dad was United; my mother’s was Presbyterian; so this seems like a familial course that skips a generation. In either case, the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada are both spiritually and philosophically much more comfortable to me than the Catholic Church.

    There’s actually a United Church congregation right on the corner about a five minute walk from my place… I go past it just about every day. A lot of the time I look at it and I wonder why the services are like. I’ve been tempted to go sometime and see for myself; principally what stops me is that I’m not genuinely devout and it seems disrespectful. But I can’t help wondering.

    • One of the things I like about Restoration Movement worship is that it is light on ceremony. There’s an order in which things are done, but it’s extremely light on pomp and circumstance. That works for me. For me, high ceremony does not help me feel closer to God.

      You know, you are in the “target market” for any church. Their very mission is to introduce people to Christ. If you ever want to participate in a service, for any reason whatsoever, I hope you will simply go. You will be welcomed, regardless of your reasons for attending.

    • I read that post. I felt bad for you. The preacher at North Liberty began his preaching career in the Tennessee hollers and told me some stories about the nature of church culture there, and what you wrote compares favorably with what he said.

      If you want to have a relationship with God, then have one, and don’t let the church people deter you. Their judgment of any sins of yours that they perceive denies their own sinfulness and need for grace.

  4. Nancy [ Roe] Stewart says:

    I hope you find that this church and congregation turn out to be the one for you and your sons. Even tho I am glad my kids attended Catholic schools and I work for a Catholic organization, I too find the pomp and circumstance and exclusions and rules a bit of a turn off. I was raised in the United Methodist Church and still love the songs from the old Methodist Hymnal. I believe I am probably more comfortable as a Methodist than anything else. But I aiso find comfort in reciting the Hail Mary when troubled. But also being very nature focused there are also certain aspects of Native American spiritualism and ancient Celtic religion that I feel comfortable with. Guess I am a mixture of all the above.

    • Thank you, Nancy. Don’t we all stitch together things that comfort us and encourage us into our spirituality? I lean a little on meditation and yoga, which are generally considered to be Eastern practices. But I keep my eyes on the Father and his Son.

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