On Sunday, we attended a Membership Matters class and picked a date, so it’s official: we’re joining our neighborhood United Methodist Church, marking the end of our church search, a search we’ve been on since our beloved community and church plant Eikon disbanded about a year ago.
While we knew finding another Eikon would be impossible, it wasn’t easy to choose a new church to call home. For one thing, even within our marriage, finding a church we both agree on is tough, because certain things like the role of women (we’re for equality!), the importance of social justice and creation care, the belief that the salvation of all things is about more than just asking Jesus to live in your heart, and love for all people regardless of sexuality/race/socioeconomic status are important to us, but we also wanted a great kids program and a vibrant worship experience. Add to that equation that we were also hoping to land in the same place as some of our Eikon friends, and you have a group choosing a church by committee.
We tried big churches and small churches. Presbyterian, Episcopalian, non-denominational/evangelical, and Methodist. We liked aspects of just about every place we visited, and truly disliked only one experience (let’s just say a sermon about how God wants to make people materially wealthy isn’t the way to our hearts). I truly think we could have been happy in many of the congregations we visited.
We even really seriously considered the church that I would say was farthest outside my comfort zone, a non-denominational/evangelical church. It was definitely different than the Presbyterian churches I grew up in, but I was willing to give it a shot because it seemed to have a deep commitment to racial and cultural unity, which is rare in churches in the South and in the US as a whole, and because it had a lot of young families and seemed to have a great kids program. We attended regularly for many months, truly enjoyed our time in worship there, and even went to a class for potential new members, but ultimately, the fact that the leadership (elders and pastors) was all-male, the fact that homosexuality was condemned as a sin, and a few other little things we heard in the preaching came together to show us that we weren’t in quite the right place, though we wish that group the best in their work toward reconciliation and unity.
Ultimately, we started attending a contemporary service at a United Methodist church very near to our house, which is a major plus when trying to get ourselves and two small people out the door on Sunday mornings. We started just as a new pastor for that service came on board, and we have really enjoyed his preaching. We like the music and worship style a lot, and there are many young families and a great, well-run kids program for the girls. Theologically, as the senior pastor said in class today, there’s really not a lot about Methodists that would make them stand out among other mainline protestant denominations, because they all believe the same things, but I liked that he said that what Methodists try to emphasize above everything else is grace. I have also long loved the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a way of making sense of scripture, theology, and the world, because I think it’s vitally important to know the Bible, but also impossible to read/understand/value the Bible in isolation from tradition, reason, and lived experience.
We like that there are women on staff as pastors, and that the UMC affirms women in full equality. We also like that this church is a large church that uses its size to do large amounts of good in our community and the world, and we look forward to plugging in to some mission opportunities there. Ultimately, I think and hope and pray that this will be a place where we can find a peer group but also have a diverse community, where our kids can be nurtured in the faith, where we can learn and grow ourselves, and where we can connect with opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work of making all things new and whole. I do know that the UMC has some work to do to become truly inclusive of all people regardless of sexuality or gender identity, but I feel the denomination is moving in the right direction, and am encouraged to see same-sex couples in worship on Sunday mornings, which I take as a sign that this particular congregation is on the side of inclusiveness and equality.
So– this lifelong Presbyterian is joining up with the Methodists. I guess this makes me a Presbodist?