If I Had Five Hundred Dollars…

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The Barenaked Ladies sing about what they would do with a million dollars, and they probably actually have that (or have had it, or could have had it if they had made better choices or whatever), but all I wanted was five hundred. I wasn’t going to keep it, or buy a real green dress with it (even though I like green, and I like dresses). I needed it to pay for my current CPE internship.

I had stopped working at Previous Church (formerly known as Now Church) back in May, and although I had picked up the odd freelance job over the summer, I wasn’t exactly making regular–or living wage–paychecks. (I’m still not, but I’m way less stressed about it–but that’s another story for another time.) Five hundred dollars is a really reasonable amount for one unit of training of the caliber that CPE is, but I was having a hard time scraping that together without dipping into savings, and had already put off paying it for about a month. Now it was November, and I finally had just enough in the bank, and was about to write it onto a check…and then the floor rotted out of my car. Guess how much it cost to fix it? $535.

“Well,” I thought to myself, before jogging to the autobody shop to pick up and pay for the car (I threw that in there to impress you, but I think I only went for a run twice last year), “I guess they can wait for me to pay for CPE for another month.”

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This picture is actually from 2011, and in it I am getting ready to play laser tag for my birthday, but I just rediscovered it and decided it was kind of adorable, and better than the public domain images of random people running that I found in Google search.

I picked up the car. I brought it back. I checked the mail. There was a letter from a friend. Inside the letter was a check. Guess how much the check was for?

It was written because I had just been appointed to Campus Ambassadors/Missions Door. But it was what I needed right that second to pay for CPE. Somehow God–and this discerning friend of mine–managed to confirm both trajectories in one fell swoop. I was pretty quiet for a minute. Then, a little breathlessly, I thanked God, and I thanked my friend. And then I paid for CPE.

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How Did That Happen?

Also, happy New Year!

cropped-73-pilgern-153I had this grand plan to resume blogging here on New Year’s Day, but here’s the thing. Although I have a lot to say (per usual), most of it these days has to do with my new ministry venture–thoughts about it, and bits of it–and I can’t actually properly begin that until I’m “funded.” This means all my time which isn’t going to my chaplaincy internships, and 100% of Writing Brain, is dedicated to raising financial support at this moment. I have a lot to say about that, actually, but at the moment, I’m mostly highly conscious of the fact that one day last autumn I was talking about living the dream and starting a nonprofit, and then another day last month I started talking about how I had joined an existing one, and most if not all of you have no idea of what happened to get from Point A to Point B.

The day after I wrote about what I (or maybe you) might do if I (or maybe you) could do anything, I had a conversation with someone from Previous Church (which, at the moment, is the only alternative nickname I can think of for Now Church which is no longer where I work or attend). I was still looking for a Regular Job a the time. You know. The kind where you go to work and the company pays you and it might not be quite what you had in mind, but it’s a paying job and it’s sort of related to what you wanted to do, so you just stick with it. So I asked this friend from PC (Previous Church), who was contemplating retirement, whether or not I could take over her job when she retired.

“Well, you could,” she said. “But you wouldn’t like it. Why don’t you talk to Campus Ambassador Guy? I’m sure he’d have something you could do.”

I forgot that we both knew Campus Ambassador Guy. I guess she didn’t know that Campus Ambassadors, like many other nonprofit organizations, requires their employees to raise their own work expenses and salaries. But I guess she also didn’t know that I was about to meet with Campus Ambassador Guy’s Boss that very day, to talk about other stuff related to chaplaincy. I knew I was, though, and I knew Campus Ambassador Guy’s Boss would invite me to join Campus Ambassadors that day (because she had before) and somehow it didn’t seem entirely coincidental that I was having this conversation with PC Friend right before meeting with Campus Ambassadors Guy’s Boss.

It seemed less coincidental when Boss said, “If you could design your own ministry, what would it look like?” I mean, given the fact I had just blogged about questions like that.

It seemed even less coincidental when Campus Ambassadors Guy’s Boss talked to Campus Ambassadors Guy himself and he told her how he’d been praying for someone to develop a ministry focusing on Campus Ambassadors’ alumni, because, he was noticing, a lot of them were graduating from college after a good track record with their Christian campus group, only to drop out of church and Christian community completely when they left. (You might know that this Church drop-out demographic is kind of important to me.) Campus Ambassadors Guy didn’t have the time to create such a ministry himself, but he thought my ideas sounded like something that would work really well for the group of people  he was hoping to reconnect.

Numerous long conversations, a lot of prayer, and a full-blown application process later, I now find myself part of a team of likeminded people, on the verge of starting something new–to help expand both their ministry and mine, God willing. I am privileged to be able to apply a limited amount of time with college students on a state college campus toward my CPE chaplaincy training, so some of my ministry is already happening, which is not something to take for granted. But I don’t really get to embark on the Pilgrimage (the post-college spiritual formation coaching project I’ve been appointed to develop) until my salary (including what is needed to pay at the end of the year for taxes, worker’s compensation, benefits, etc) has been raised.

It’s a little daunting, and like I said, I have thoughts about this process, and things to say. But if I’d started my own nonprofit, I’d be doing this same thing, and I wouldn’t already have a team of people to work with and to keep me accountable and bounce ideas off of, and I would end up spending all my time trying to do my own accounting (something I have no clue about!), and not ever being able to get this Dream off the ground. Or (if the door to one had finally opened, which frankly wasn’t happening even a little bit for all of 2015) I’d be working at a Regular Job, still with this nagging feeling that there was something else I really Needed to do, that wasn’t quite happening where I was.

So, I’m thankful for how this has shaped up, even though there’s a whole lot of Unknown in it. I’m hoping to have a chance to share more about this with you. I’m hoping you might want to join me on this Pilgrimage by being a part of my monthly finance team (donations are tax-deductible!). Most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what God does with this. (He’s already doing stuff, by the way.) There are a whole lot of things that seem presumptuous or ridiculous, but these are the doors that seem to keep bursting open, so He’s got to have something in mind. I will do my best to keep you posted. Please help as you feel “nudged.” We’re on this journey together, as always.

Oh. And did I mention happy New Year? Happy New Year!

The Pilgrimage: The Unexpected

I’ll bet you thought I was never going to blog again.

I’ll bet you thought I was back.

Or you’re just used to my blogging fickleness, so that whenever I post something, you think, “She’ll be gone again.” And whenever I stop, you think, “She’ll be back.”

Or you just haven’t noticed.

Anyway, pretty immediately after my last three posts, there was a turn of events that both fulfilled and altered the non-profit-starting trajectory I was on. There are many tales I could tell you about all this, and I feel like I intend to, but I’m not making any promises. For now, see here the newsletter I have sent to many of my friends, relations, and acquaintances. Consider yourself a recipient, too!

If you are intrigued and would like to receive more of these missives (or even join me on this new Pilgrimage), please visit my new website and sign yourself up!

Second Takes

The first time I brought a group of high schoolers on a mission trip, there was one young man who had such a great time that he refused to go on another such trip ever again, because he believed it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as that first one. I think I maybe understand how he felt. My first unit of CPE, which only ended two months ago, was such a formative and healing experience with such exceptional people during a time otherwise characterized by such upheaval, that I can’t quite conceive of how this second unit could possibly measure up.

Yet here I am, intentionally not-refusing another round of CPE, regardless of this feeling. I’m hoping that my being in my 40’s instead of in my teens will at least give me the perspective to realize there is value in all kinds of experience, that “measuring up” may be a false standard (what is the standard, anyway?), and that I still have lots to learn. I suspect what I need to learn this time around, I will only be able to learn from and with this new set of differently exceptional people. I just need not to expect to feel exactly the same at the end of this current unit as I did at the end of the last one. I certainly don’t feel the same at the beginning of it.

Although, as I discovered after trying to co-lead a tour of the hospital for my new group-mates yesterday, I still don’t know where all the hospital units are, said Hospital feels much more like “home” this time around.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

I don’t feel as jumpy around new people as I did when I first walked into the building as a CPE newbie. I recognize some of the staff from other departments. I felt comfortable to come in and begin visiting patients in new units even before we were technically required to, and have already had some interesting, and maybe even noteworthy, visits. I visited my favorite unit from last time and was greeted with smiles and squeals of happy recognition and welcome by the staff. I was equally delighted to see them. I already know that the Monsigneur on staff is personable and that I don’t have to stand on ceremony with him, nor do I need my Supervisor to be my immediate go-to person for each and every question or uncertainty that may blip across my consciousness.

That said, I find that I am still quite nervous about the psychological health unit, where I asked to be assigned and consequently have been. I attended with my Supervisor a group he runs there, and sat there feeling deeply interested in everything the patients said, but also entirely at a loss at how to engage in the group—so I didn’t, sitting mute and no doubt wide-eyed. I was too nervous to go up there by myself before that meeting, so I have no idea if my discomfort was simply a form of self-consciousness because I felt that my Supervisor would be evaluating anything I might ask or offer in the group, or if it was a genuine reaction to the demographic. Or the stories. Probably some of all of that. I want to be there, because I’ve had my own struggles with depression, and mental illness and addiction are rampant in Our Fair City, and I think it’s important for me to learn how to “be” in this context. But it’s quite clear that learning it is essential, because I don’t already know how to be there, at all.

Already this unit of CPE is shaping up very differently from the last, but as a consequence, I feel excited and interested in seeing how this new chapter unfolds. I am relishing an increase of confidence from the last time, and only hope I don’t stride into this experience with such briskness that I miss noticing what’s happening in and around me in the moment.

Soul Garden

Last Thursday I went to see my Spiritual Director. After a few moments of silence, which I requested but during which I discovered my brain was very very noisy, he asked me, as he always does, “What do you want to talk about today?”

So, as frequently happens when I think I want to blog, I suddenly thought of so many things to “talk about today” that I couldn’t say anything. So I looked out the window instead, and noticed it was raining. I thought about how good it was that it was raining because, in spite of record-breaking snows last winter, it’s been a pretty dry summer and the garden needs the rain. Then I thought about the garden.

Then I said, “So, we have this garden. Paul’s been working on it for months–really hard–and it is going crazy. I mean, it is super-fruitful. There were a couple things that didn’t come out so well–the corn and the pole beans–but everything grew–and there is a ton of it all. The heirloom tomatoes are huge, and the zucchinis are still growing, we had a bunch of cucumbers, and there are a million spaghetti squashes coming in. But,” I went on, “it’s a mess. Everything has been growing so well and so madly that all the plants are all tangled up together. You can’t tell where one plant ends or another begins. Sometimes it looks like the tomatoes are bearing peppers, and the morning glories are growing tomatoes, and  … You can’t even walk around in there without hacking down some vines to get through and pick stuff.

My Spiritual Director sat there waiting for me to come to the point, but he probably already knew what it was, because he’s pretty good at being a spiritual director.

“I guess,” I said, “I feel like the garden is a picture of my life right now. This has been a really rough year, but the whole time Jesus has felt very present, and like He’s doing a lot of work on me–and I think stuff is happening. Like, maybe there’s some ultimately useless stuff going on, like the beans and the corn, but also lots and lots of produce. I’m just not totally sure how to get in there and figure out what’s all in there, because it’s so productive and so crazy, everything’s all tangled up.”

The more we talked about it, the more apt we felt this analogy was–and the more I still do. But since I can’t take pictures of my soul, you can look at the garden (and the produce) of a few weeks ago, instead.

If You Could Do Anything …

I guess it’s probably not surprising, when someone is in vocational transition, for people to ask them, “If you could do anything for work, what would you do?”

Anyway, within the last five days or so, it seems like a lot of people have been asking me some version of that:

“What would your ideal ministry look like?”

“What do you really love to do?”

“In the next five years, what do you wish you could be doing?”

Yesterday I was driving to visit my nonagenarian grandmother and, as I often do on long car-rides if I don’t nearly fall asleep instead, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was,

“I want to teach a class on Roman Catholic literature!”

That's a Jenn Story

Cue angelic epiphany music here.
(Also, don’t judge my drawing. You’ll note that my epiphany was NOT about wanting to teach art. Or science.)

Maybe just 20th century Roman Catholic literature, although the original trigger for the idea was pondering The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, which I just read as part of my spiritual direction training. The Roman Catholic literature idea is a blogpost in its own right (but may I just say with breathless excitement #FlanneryOConnorWalkerPercyGrahamGreeneJRRTolkein? I mean, awesome, right??).

That’s not normally how I answer people when they ask those questions, though. Normally I say something like, “Well, I really love listening to people’s stories, and coaching them on their spiritual journeys, and teaching–especially teaching stuff that I’m excited about learning.” Today I told someone, “CS Lewis said to write the kind of book you want to read, and I’ve tried but I can’t do that” [mostly because the kind of book I want to read is Roman Catholic literature, and I’m not Roman Catholic; or CS Lewis books, which have already been written by CS Lewis–and when I try to write in the genre of Narnia or the Cosmic Trilogy I fail miserably] “but I think I could probably teach the kind of class I would want to take.” That was a little bit of an epiphany, too.

One time, in answer to those questions, I spent a couple of days writing a proposal for the Gradually-Less-Nebulous-Nonprofit. Maybe at some point (tomorrow?) I will post some of it here. It involves listening to people’s stories, and coaching, and teaching, and some public speaking/seminar-type deals, and retreats. This is what I want to do, but it’s sort of scary, because then I think,

“There are other people who do this already, who are really good at it, and who do I think I am, and do I even begin to think I’ve got something else or more to offer than they’re already offering?”

And, “If it’s a nonprofit, why on earth would anyone donate to it, when there are other, already established, reputable nonprofits?” (Not to mention, the idea of responsibly setting a salary for myself is scary.)

And, “If I decide that really, it should be for-profit, no one could donate even if they wanted to, and then how would I keep costs down for potential clients/students, and either way, what if no one wants to take the courses I hope to teach?”

And, “How does one go about choosing a board of directors? And what are they supposed to do, anyway?”

And, “What the heck–I don’t know how to do this stuff. Maybe I’ll go back to professional nannying.” I mean, it’s an honourable profession–and I am still training to be a chaplain … even though I won’t have certification for at least two more years …

Guys. This is terrifying.

Is this (and, say, lack of funds) why so few of us actually do what we would do if we could do anything?

What would you do if you could do anything? And are you doing it?

Pathological Cling

You’ve met Oscar before. He’s that cute little guy sitting there with me in my current Gravatar.

That's a Jenn Story

Here–just in case I change it again at some point and you read this long after I’ve written it.

He’s a sweet, gentle, quiet boy, and I guess he didn’t have the greatest of beginnings, because when I got him as a rescue six years ago, he had some pretty severe anxiety issues. He hasn’t ever really lost them, but being loved by people and socialised by Shemp helped a lot to make him internally relaxed and a little more “opened up.” Quirky for sure, but he’s my dog, so that’s probably a foregone conclusion, and basically he’s a good dog.

On the other hand, although there are people he likes, and other dogs he’s been friends with, in another sense he’s only ever deeply bonded with me and Shemp. We were pretty worried about how he was going to adjust (or not) to Shemp’s passing, but although he was clearly quite depressed for a while afterwards, with a few minor episodes he really behaved very well. Thing is, he doesn’t do well with changes in routine to begin with, and his canine support who enabled him to navigate them is no longer around.

Normally, Oscar doesn't snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

Normally, Oscar doesn’t snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

When I stopped bringing him to work at my former church, Shemp was still around and he adjusted just fine. And by the time Shemp was gone, I had transitioned to my internship and he was used to me leaving at roughly the same time every morning and coming home at the same time every evening. Then we all (including Oscar) went on vacation, and then I worked as a short-term nanny to the small son of one of my Starbucks friends, on a similar schedule.

But last weekend, I went away for four days, for my first Spiritual Direction training retreat. Although he was clearly happy to see me when I returned, Oscar seemed his normal self, but the problem is, this week has been a continuation of “different.” My Paul’s workload has ballooned, and I am suddenly fully unemployed, waiting for my next internship to begin, and trying to find part-time work for income at the same time. (Or working on getting ready to launch my Nonprofit–which is legitimately in process.) This means that I’m home at weird hours, and because Paul is working late a lot, our usual evening routine (frequently involving a ride on the boat) hasn’t been happening either.

All of a sudden yesterday it was as if Oscar had mental break, and he has been incapable of letting me out of his sight. He follows me to the bathroom and lies down outside it against the door. He follows me up the stairs, where he isn’t allowed. He leans against my legs when I’m doing my hair or make-up in the morning. (Today I pointed the running hairdryer at him to see what he would do and he just sat there. He hates loud noises.) He gloms onto my hip when I’m sitting on the couch. It’s weird, and annoying, and a little concerning, because although it’s clear a metaphorical (metaphysical?) switch flipped inside him, I’m not sure how to flip it back.

Usually there's not even this much separation

This week, usually there’s not even this much separation between us.

Paul made the valid point that Shemp went away and never came back, and I just went away for a significant stretch, and so Oscar’s probably fearful that all his pack are deserting him. Honestly, I was just crying about Shemp again the other day myself, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar’s still sustaining some significant grief himself. Our dramatic change in household routine has, I suspect, cemented that idea of potential loss of or abandonment by me in his little nervous doggie skull. So I’m giving him lots of hugs while still maintaining the house rules with him, but so far he does not seem convinced that all is well, and I’m not sure how to help him besides, frankly, to pray for him. Do you have any ideas?

Love, Oscar

Help, please. Love, Oscar

The Presence of Greatness

I spent eleven weeks this summer in the hospital.

But I wasn’t a patient. At the end of May, after saying farewell to the church where I’d worked for seven years, and after visiting The BroFam for a week, I embarked on the first of four internships toward hospital chaplaincy certification. (It’s called CPE–Clinical Pastoral Education–and now you can say you just learned something this summer, too!) I started it because it seemed pretty closely related to my interest in spiritual direction (it still seems like it), and because I figured it might help me gauge what’s next, vocation-wise. I think it might have, because I’m now enrolled in the next unit of CPE, to start at the end of this month.

I can’t tell you all about my “summer vacation” (it wasn’t a vacation, by the way), because it was mostly other people’s stories, but here’s what I can tell you about the other people’s stories:

They’re amazing.

It’s easy to get jaded about people. For example, when you work at Starbucks and half the customers act entitled and arrogant and it’s just coffee, people. But if you have a chance to sit with a person who is going through a time of great pain, or even a time of great joy (I got to see a lot of new babies this summer), and really listen to their story–well, it’s hard not to be somewhat in awe.

It is, as someone hypothesized to me this afternoon, pretty humbling when a complete stranger bares their soul to you–or even just shares a little bit about themselves. My main takeaway from my summer has been that I just spent nearly three months sitting in the presence of greatness–a whole lot of people created in the image of God, with all their life experiences, all their pain and glory. I guess giving people the opportunity to tell their stories (“I have a story?” many of them said, and “Everyone has a story. I’d be honoured to hear yours,” I said) is providing a service for others. But I’m not sure whether I didn’t benefit the more. There’s no way I’m remotely like Mother Teresa, but I think I caught a glimpse of what people like her talk about, meeting Jesus in everyone.

I’m still not really sure where, specifically, I’m going vocationally, but I’m looking forward to the next internship.

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What’s in It for Me?

The weirdest thing about this whole church shopping phase we’re in is that I have consciously to ask what I can get out of it. I never wanted to be a “what’s in it for me?” person.

Yes, yes, I’m familiar with the idea that some people like to espouse which says that even altruistic acts are never entirely altruistic because you always get something out of it. And I guess if you want to be that guy and say that somehow doing something for love of someone else (or Someone Else) is still “getting something out of it,” you can be that guy. Either way, I know myself well enough to be able to admit that even if a truly altruistic act is possible, and even though I don’t think the question a person asks when they’re looking for a church should be “What’s in it for me?” it’s entirely plausible that my current preference for small mainline orthodox churches indicates that I get something out of that type of worship and community–although I still have to figure out what that is. And I’m also not sure that that type of church is where we’ll end up at the end of all this. We might. We might not. We’re not making our decision based on that preference, is the thing–although it’s still a factor, as will be seen.

The real problem is this very conscious need I have for a church to officially endorse me. I don’t like having to base our decision so largely on something that sounds so self-centered and even mercenary. But that’s what it’s looking like right now.

As you will know, if you’ve been paying attention over the vast swathes of time elapsing between each post here this year, during the summer I did a unit of CPE. It was great. I am hoping to be able to blog about that for a while after this post, but anyway, it seems like a good vocational fit (which might actually, in three or four years (!) lead to a small income, unlike spiritual direction which is an even better fit and even less financially viable). The thing about chaplaincy certification is that it’s pretty “hoop-y.” There are seminary credit hoops, and equivalency hoops (if you don’t have the sufficient amount of seminary credit, which apparently a Master’s in Theological Studies doesn’t provide), and church membership and endorsement hoops.

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys ...

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys … Or I might be.

This is awkward for someone who has always been active in church and highly endorse-able and now, suddenly when she needs it, doesn’t currently belong to a church that can endorse her. This is further complicated by the fact that even though it appears that the accrediting body for chaplains will accept any form endorsement from a recognised church entity, each church itself has different requirements for endorsement.

Most of the small mainline churches that my Paul and I like so much belong to denominations with even hoop-ier requirements for endorsement than chaplaincy accreditation has, including, say, extra (and expensive) higher education through one of their denomination’s own seminaries (as opposed to that unaffiliated one I graduated from). And I mean, I get that if I’m going to join a denomination of which I’ve never been a part, and one of whose churches I just attended one or two times, I should get some solid info about where they came from and where they think they’re going and whether or not we’re a good fit for each other. But some of these processes cost around $10,000–and I just finished seminary. Also, some of the denominations and I are probably not a good fit for each other. Just that one little church and I would be. And so I wish that the one little church itself could get to know me, and I them, and they could endorse me by themselves.

On the other hand, there are independent (or loosely affiliated) churches which might well endorse me without any of that stuff if I spent some time investing in their community (also a reasonable expectation–I certainly don’t expect anyone to endorse someone they have no actual connection with or benefit from), but–well, here’s where our preference comes in after all. These churches are excellent, and faithful, and love God and people, but they are big. (Well, I mean, for New England, where there might be like 3 megachurches in the whole region and those are probably tiny compared to anywhere else.) They have contemporary worship. Which is fine, and I used to like that and I’ve even played the flute on “worship teams” in such settings, and if we went to one of these churches, I’d probably offer to do so again, but if we’re talking about preferences, I’m in the hymn camp. They have lots of ministries and lots of great people but–well, they don’t need us to help them with any of those things because if we don’t, they have a couple hundred other people who might or could or should.

The little churches my Paul and I would like to go to are lucky if they have a hundred people. They are located near halfway houses and they reach out to the people there, and contribute to food banks and homeless communities. And it’s not that these bigger churches don’t, but the littler churches are right in those neighbourhoods, and need the person-power. And both types of churches may be expressing deep and challenging faith in God, but–maybe as a function of my church-planting upbringing–I just get motivated by the small-church, all-band-together, close-knit, down-home kind of faith expression.

In the end, though, we’re open to going to either kind–as long as there’s some hope of endorsement for me eventually, but even more as long as we’re certain we’re where God wants us to be for this time. It’s tough, not to be certain, and it makes the hoops and the mercenariness of the process feel even more stressful and hoopy and mercenary. But we’re both praying and asking God to help us discern where He wants us to invest. We’re in this for Him in the end, after all. And in the end I hope we’ll discover that what was in it for us was actually Him.

Going Shopping

It is a weird thing for this chick to be church shopping.

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location. (photo credit Peter Griffin)

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location.
(photo credit Peter Griffin)

Look, I was practically born in church, okay? My parents “planted” churches when I was little, and then they settled in one for 25 years, and I moved around some on my own, but half the time I was assigned to a church (or churches) to work there. Really, the only two other times I’ve had to get serious about finding a church on my own was when I moved to college (it took a year–I thought I’d found one but then switched sophomore year and stayed with that one for the rest of undergrad) and the first time I went to seminary.

I’ve attended and participated in churches across all kinds of denominations, and with all types of worship “styles” and liturgy and theological distinctives, and the reason I can do this is because I believe the Church is the Bride of Christ, and so if a church is shining the light of Jesus at all–even a little bit–and I feel called to be a part of that community, I will pretty much just dig in and be a part of that community. I think the most important part of what Church is and should be is a community that’s centered around Jesus, and so the type of music that’s played, or the public speaking prowess of the pastor, or the social status of the parishioners, or the dress code, or the relative absence or presence of financial resources are a lot less important than whether or not Jesus is there by His Holy Spirit, and whether that Spirit is creating community there.

I also think worshiping and fellowshipping in a place that’s relatively local to where I live is important. I believe that God can work through giant churches that draw from outside their local communities (and I’ve even been part of a few, though only for a very short time each) but–dare I be so bold? and who am I to say?–I’m not really sure that’s what Church is, or is supposed to be. I think Church (community in Jesus through the Spirit) can happen in those places–I’ve experienced it. But I guess I just don’t think Church is about numbers or rock music or perfectly scripted concerts services (what some euphemise, I hear, as “excellence”) or “what I can get out of it” but more about where I’m called and where I can contribute and be in community with others who are journeying with and toward Christ. So when I have cause to become a part of a new church, it’s usually either because I’ve moved or I’ve been hired (or both), and I work on settling in and trying to worship and commune with the people who have been called to that community, too. That’s not to say I do that perfectly at first or ever, but it’s my attempted approach to such things.

This summer, my Paul and I have been visiting a variety of churches within our basic local radius (last week’s was a stretch, geographically, so if we go again it will likely only ever be as visitors, but we did “get a lot out of it,” truly), trying to discern where God wants us to go next, and it’s just weird to me, because I haven’t ever had to wonder about it this much. It’s also different because this is the first time I’ve been trying to make these decisions with someone. I’m grateful that for the most part my Paul and I have had similar responses to the churches we’ve visited. Incidentally, I think all of our responses have been largely positive.

It seems like, while we’re open to larger Evangelical churches which are more similar to what I grew up with and where Paul’s been worshiping the last few years, at the moment we both prefer smaller mainline churches with fairly traditional services, but where the orthodox Christian gospel (God, the Three-in-One, made humans in His image. Humans messed up the relationship. Jesus, who is God, became human to show us what a human-in-relationship-to-God is supposed to look like, then died to take the penalty for our really really serious mess-up, and then broke the power of death by coming back to life a few days later, so that we can live in His life by His Spirit) is communicated in word and service. (Note to Evangelical skeptics: We have found at least three such congregations this summer, although one was on our Back-of-Beyond vacation a few weeks ago and we won’t be commuting up there.)

It’s kind of interesting, visiting all these places, finding out what our current church preferences are (and that they’re similar) and letting the experience continue to inform my ideas about Church, since I’ve been thinking about it so much this summer.

But it’s still weird, guys. It’s still weird.