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21 October 2014

I know most of you aren't churchy.... [More:] ...but after some ups and downs with our congregation we decided earlier this year it would be best if we found another church. Shortly after reaching this decision I got a call from someone at the church about something I'd been involved in and I told her I wouldn't be doing that anymore.

And that was that, pretty much. Never a call from the pastor, never a call from our "pod leader" (they have the church subdivided into pods or subgroups to make sure people don't slip through the cracks). And it was that easy, we slipped through the cracks.

I have no idea if the woman who called told anyone else at the church, and I don't really care. I'm just a teeny bit butt-hurt that there was no follow-up to see what was up with 17-year members who are no longer coming around.

Well, we finally got an official contact from someone at the church: They sent us a pledge packet, asking us to consider how much we'll commit giving in the coming year.

Sorry to hear it. I think it's easy for people to slip away at church; everybody gets wrapped up in their own stuff. Certainly not ideal! Something interesting for us to think about now that we're The Pastor's Family.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 21 October | 21:29
One way to look at it is that people know we chose to leave and are respecting that.

We still see a lot of the people from the church on FB and don't really mention church stuff too much.

We're going to the next closest Presbyterian church right now. It's a comfortable place right now - conveniently close, we know a small number of people there (I've been FB friends with the pastor there for some time; we only met in person after going to church there). There's a lot to like about it, and a few things that I'm not as crazy about.

There's another church a bit further away that we may take a closer look at. Extremely small and our presence would be noticed and appreciated, also a PCUSA church but a very young pastor who isn't afraid to try new things (such as the Wednesday Night Men's Bible Study and Beer Brewing Club).

We also tried a United Church of Christ that was kind of interesting... they have a lesbian pastor. I don't have a problem with that, but I thought her sermon was too overtly political. If it were the only game in town we'd give them a try.

At our old church there were several things that kind of pushed us out.
. Shortly after I became an elder there, I tried to take on a couple issues head-on that the rest of the Session was hiding their heads in the sand about. I think some saw me as a troublemaker.
. One of the issues was our recently hired Christian Ed/Youth Director. She was overstepping her bounds, pissing people off, and was very manipulative, playing groups off against each other. One of the people she shit on was my wife. I didn't want her fired; I wanted the Personnel Committee to set bounds and expectations for her to help her succeed. In the end they said the job description they used to hire her was adequate (which clearly, it wasn't; that's why we were having problems).
. We finally decided to leave several years ago. I resigned as elder and we just stopped going.
. Eventually we returned (at the urging of the pastor of the church we had started attending; she was familiar with our situation and the church we left). She even helped reconcile between my wife and the Director of Christian Ed. (Eventually, though, the church did in fact fire the DCE which kind of vindicated my position earlier that the way she was operating was not sustainable).
. We knew there were some issues there but figured if we just got back to churching there, the wounds would heal over. They did on the surface, but there was always a rift there. We saw cliques there that we didn't notice before, and we weren't part of them.
. In the pews on Sundays, the pastor (who's a fine person) was in a rut. He can start a sermon and we know exactly where he's going with it before he's finished the first paragraph. I want to be challenged by a sermon, not handed easy platitudes.
. It's a situation, I think, where we and the congregation grew apart.
. That led to earlier this year when we made the decision to just walk away from the old church. I don't see a reconciliation this time.

So we're out looking for a new church home.
posted by Doohickie 21 October | 22:02
My parents do a decent amount of church hopping; it seems like they find a new place every 5 years or so. Same sort of reasons you mention- politics, stale worship. Though they really like their current place, so maybe this one will stick. I hope you can find a place that feels like home. It's tough, I know it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 21 October | 22:28
Thanks for the encouraging words.
posted by Doohickie 21 October | 22:29
Churches are not really any different from any other type of human community: club, website, university, whatever. They really vary in their shared values and culture.

LT and I joined our church last spring after "shopping" around for the right place for a long time. We attended about 6 churches before we found ours, and we loved it immediately. It's a special one, though - sometimes I feel like the life of churches has its own cycle of ups and downs and special eras that come and go and last or don't. This church happens to be enjoying a really good time, with an incredible minister and active congregation that's growing. But we certainly visited some churches that were just resting on their laurels, nice enough but pretty indifferent to newcomers or new ideas, and one that was in active, dramatic decline and was very depressing.

I don't think you should feel like you owe any particular congregation/minister your forever allegiance. I mean, if everyone in history ever felt that, we wouldn't have 200+ denominations (literally) within American Christianity alone. You don't need to justify going looking when things have changed. A church, after all, is supposed to support your personal and spiritual growth. If it's taxing you a lot emotionally and bringing out stress and making you feel worse, then it really isn't doing what it should. It's totally OK to regroup and find a new church home. You tried with this one, even going back and trying to reconcile, which is amazing. But it sounds like even if everything else was well, this place maybe is just too cliquey and too uninspiring for you right now. Cliquiness is an issue a congregation (or membership committee, pastoral care committee, etc) can solve if it wants to and takes initiative; if they don't want to, though, they totally won't. And I think that's reflective enough of the congregation's values as a body that it's a decent litmus test.

Good luck! Enjoy the adventure. The worst I can say of "church shopping" is you meet some lovely people along the way.
posted by Miko 21 October | 23:18
I grew up in a culty secty sort of environment, where there was a lot of guilt placing and behind-one's-back murmuring and rule following and constant pressure to go to the front of the church at altar call and publicly acknowledge your sins and such. Once I was able to choose my own place of worship, I was glad to move away from that into a welcoming, low-key, slightly anonymous church where there are plenty of groups/studies/activities to join, but if you just want to go and enjoy the music and privately reflect on the sermon, that's fine--they're glad to have you! But I'm an insular New Englander who mostly just wants to cultivate my personal relationship with Jesus in my own space.
posted by initapplette 22 October | 10:45
Oh God, I feel for you Doohickie. Our priest is a complete asshole. We're a fairly large church in a big city. He's spending tons of money on projects that people don't want. He yells at little old ladies for not doing things exactly the way he thinks they should be done. He berates people during his sermons for not wanting to volunteer more (which they would, if they didn't get yelled at while doing it). He hired an assistant that everyone liked, and when the assistant left a bunch of people followed him to his new church. Rather than have that happen again, he hired an assistant who's a bland nobody and does whatever he's told to do. Most of my friends have left. But even though the governing body has the power to remove him (though it's not easy), they just shrug and say well, that's his way of doing things.

People are leaving in droves, which would normally be a concern except that he somehow managed to schmooze a few really wealthy individuals to give more to cover the riff-raff. (Come to think of it, that's how society is heading anyway...)

And the music director is a diva, which doesn't help matters. I tried joining other places a few times, but at those places it was a neglectful attitude that you describe perfectly: they never once said welcome to our church, what are you interested in, but they did leave VMs on my phone saying that they needed volunteers for X or Y. At least now, I still have some of my friends and a familiar support system. I wish he would have a heart attack or get kicked upstairs (he is always schmoozing to the bishop) or something.

Your next drink is on me, Doohickie.
posted by Melismata 22 October | 12:31
never a call from our "pod leader"

"Pods" seem like a strange name choice within a religious organization.
posted by mullacc 22 October | 14:17
The deacon's name is Trumpy. HEYO!

It's so interesting how churches breathe and live like individuals. I've attended a few churches as a singer, and it's all too easy to think that the church I'd gone to most was just operating the way a decently functioning church is these days. Then I went to an Episcopal church with an equally longstanding presence (over 125 years, I think) and WOW. Some places really do have more life; others are simply limping along and doing the same thing with different people, not questioning why or how they do them.

I feel like it's more difficult to find something like that in a mainline Protestant church, instead of the newer evangelical ones or at least those who lean towards the contemporary side. You need people who have new, great ideas that aren't TOO new!

That first church (which has really become a family to us) is also a PC-USA church, but as a music snob I feel very lucky to be in a place where the classical service is so vibrant. (We do NOT enjoy the days when we have to go happy-clappy. The contemporary folks are very nice but haven't managed to get a lot of buy-in, and every time they try to get my drummer husband to come in and play the bongoes, it stretches the limits of my Christian tolerance........)

We're pretty close to becoming members now, especially because we have a baby and want to get her baptized, etc. We just can't seem to get to services since that's when we sleep :/
posted by Madamina 22 October | 16:13
Happy-clappy, LOL. Love that phrase. It's funny, my Mom hates that kind of music, and yet they always end up at very "contemporary" churches, music-wise. I don't really get why but I've given up trying to understand why she'd just prefer to bitch endlessly about the music at the church she chooses to go to. Let go and let God ;)

Funny the running theme of always needing volunteers- never been to a church that doesn't want them! But so many churches sell it poorly- show up when we want, do what we want, don't question our way or get any ideas of your own. Who would want that? Nobody! Volunteers are worth much more if you let them truly engage and use their gifts in their own way.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 22 October | 22:19
I've been kind of adrift the last few months. Every Methodist church around here is Reconciling, so it was a matter of "well, which one do I pick?" I finally settled on one that had a knitting group, and just showed up with my ball sack (yes I call it that) I fell right in to the conversation about who needs a shawl and what technique is that and who's going to the festival next week.

I remember being part of a dying church a long time ago. A group of us had started going because of the young associate pastor. We left when she was reassigned. Man,there was a lot of bad feeling over that. But we just couldn't hold the place up anymore.
posted by lysdexic 23 October | 02:03
I forgot to add - I know it's painful, Doohickie, but I think their response indicates what they find really important. Good luck with the new place.
posted by lysdexic 23 October | 02:04
Huh. So many church goers.
I wonder whether the US is more religious than north-western Europe.

Apart from muslim immigrants most religious congregations here are small, dwindling numbers of old people.
For instance there's a large catholic church nearby. And the nr of church goers is around 30. So there will come a time soon when they can't afford the place anymore.

I'm not religious. But it's still sad to see this humongous church building, built for large masses, on the brink of becoming untenable.

I guess the higher numbers of religious people in the US would explain the slight stridency tone of stridency of US atheïsts on mefi...
posted by jouke 23 October | 11:06
jouke, the US is verrrry religious compared to most western countries I spent any time in. I couldn't tell you a single person I knew who was a church goer (except my family -- Catholics) when I lived in NZ. Or if they were, of course, I never found out. And yes, that meant that there were no strident atheists either.
posted by gaspode 23 October | 17:53
I wonder whether the US is more religious than north-western Europe.

I've always heard this to be the case.

Yes, we're a country that was founded partially by religious zealots fleeing other religious zealots, and then endured wave after wave of religious revivalism from the late 18th century on, most recently through the last two decades. Catholicism was established here from the 1500s on, and immigration in the nineteenth century brought this country lots and lots more Catholics and also lots of Lutherans. Churches were the primary social system for the first few hundred years - they were your social scene, your safety net, your entertainment, your charity system, your loan organization, all sorts of stuff. Today, religiosity in the US is at record lows, but we're still a country with a striking commitment to religious belief in general, and that does make athiests often feel they are climbing uphill.

Personally, I was raised by freethinkers who had both been raised by believers, but of two really different flavors. I chose my own religious path as an adult and have been happy with it. I like that I didn't just get raised in a religion and default to it - it's always been a thoughtful process for me. That's not to say those who've stayed in their original denomination have not engaged in a thoughtful process; many certainly have. I migrated more from an atheist/nonbeliever position that was sort of what I was brought up around into a more religiously aligned position over my lifetime. At the same time, I have a lot of characteristics of atheists; I'm skeptical, careful about assumptions and reject dogma. Fortunately there are churches that welcome that kind of orientation and I am happy to have been involved in a few of them. Church, for me (when I've found a good one) is about having a place to go once a week or so to be around others who are thinking about life's serious questions, considering their moral obligations, pledging to help one another and do some good in the world, and generally being about something other, maybe deeper, than the minutiae of the daily round of life.
posted by Miko 23 October | 20:24
I agree with you, Miko. I don't really do the Jesus thing as something more than a person to emulate, but I feel really strongly about the idea of church as a place where we're all focused on the common good at that moment in time.
posted by Madamina 23 October | 22:54
I go to synagogue because I need the ritual.

We had a female cantor I liked, but I was getting hints that she and the (also female) rabbi didn't click. A male cantor was brought in to sing Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which I thought was unfair; she was cantor, she should have sung it.
posted by brujita 24 October | 03:03
I go to synagogue because I need the ritual.

We had a female cantor I liked, but I was getting hints that she and the (also female) rabbi didn't click. A male cantor was brought in to sing Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which I thought was unfair; she was cantor, she should have sung it.
posted by brujita 24 October | 03:04
I grew up in a completely secular way. So religion is rather foreign to me.
Although I switched to a different high school that was christian. As a teenager I thought the prayer start of the day was completely preposterous.

I remember that my mother financially supported the Lutheran church. Out of an idea that churches generally do good and out of her German background. As a child I watched her utter discomfort when the dominee visited as a result. Apparently her support was really completely abstract and she didn't want to be part of the social aspect.
Pretty funny in retrospect.

My father always had books about mysticism about. Not only sanskrit translations of Mahayana texts but also medieval mystics. Meister Eckhart. Nicolaus von Küs. Neoplatonists. The cloud of unknowing. That kind of thing. But I don't think that entailed a christian belief in god.

For me it was quite an experience that the parents of my US girlfriend were ultra orthodox jewish. All those rules of behaviour. Very easy to be polite about. Very hard to really empathise with.

Nowadays in theory I see the value in being part of a community that thinks about values and the common good. And I've been raised to be polite about religious convictions.
But it's just not for me.
posted by jouke 24 October | 11:57
I believe in God (though not prayer to get things/fix things) but I am a bad Jew who hasn't been in synagogue pretty much since my Dad died and I was too angry at God to go.

Religion is meaningful for me, aside from my belief in God, because it is often such a good way to get people, including me, thinking about their values and implementing them. (It is a sad irony that a lot of US religious types use their religion instead to maintain complete denial of their failure to follow their own alleged moral code.)

But religious organizations are tough. I went to one synagogue for years because I loved our female rabbi. When she left, so did my motivation to attend. I went to a bigger synagogue after that, where I knew a lot of the congregants, but I never really clicked with that female rabbi, and when I left, shortly after my Dad died, I don't think it was more than a ripple for the other attendees. I'd add that it is harder to go to synagogue for me because my husband is on the run from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing and absolutely will not come along, even to be polite. Nor would I want to make him that uncomfortable. But I don't like leaving him to go to services/events.
posted by bearwife 24 October | 14:56
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