Seated in my usual place in the sanctuary, I watch as new members are called forward to be received and welcomed into the church. Three years ago I was among those walking to the front.
I didn’t come here intending to join a church. In fact, I had no desire to add yet another identity to an already mongrelized nomenclature of my faith journey: Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, backslider, attending Episcopalian, agnostic, recommitted Christian, and now—Lutheran?
When I read of “churchhoppers” or “cafeteria Christians” I partly wince and partly smile in recognition that some would use those terms in describing me. Like others of my baby-boomer generation, “brand loyalty” is a priority. In fact, the majority of members in my congregation are also hyphenated Christians.
After my husband retired from the military, we settled in the Pacific Northwest and began attending a church, largely as a desire that our young son have exposure to church. It was not a very welcoming congregation, nor comfortable for someone like me who has a difficult time with church-as-ritual. I felt myself growing spiritually numb until I lapsed into serious doubt.
It also became apparent that our son needed a Sunday school tailored to his age group. So after attending the 8 a.m. service as a family, my husband headed home while my son and I headed down the road to the ELCA church, which was known for having a good children’s program. After taking my son to his classroom I would slip into the back of the sanctuary and observe how Lutherans “did church.”
Week after week I heard of God’s grace, acceptance, love, forgiveness and call to service. Slowly I began to perceive that it was more than just talk. Gradually I came to feel at home in a place where human brokenness and imperfection are held in common. Confused and doubtful as I was, there was something which called to me.
A way was made for me to see God in a new and expanded light, transcending fundamentalism and ritual. Another paradigm shift was occurring, and I jumped feet-first into faith. No half measures this time. I am in this all the way. The decision of whether to join another church took longer though, much longer.
Salvation is by grace—not by being on the membership rolls of a particular church. God transcends our organized structures. “Do I really want to join another church?” I asked myself that for nearly a year, slowly coming to the following conclusions.
In an ideal church one is accepted, loved, nurtured, taught and provided opportunity to serve. It is a place where you can find encouragement and strength in a connection with other broken people.
“But wouldn’t a club, service organization or support group achieve the same purpose?” I wondered. Probably not ... at least not quite. Only church offers a three-way connection of reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out in a way more profound than any club, support group or political-action committee. Imperfect though it has been, abounding at times in as much “ungrace” as grace, religion provides the structure, resources and settings to help people seek God and serve others.
“So why this particular church?” I asked myself, forming a “Top 10 Reasons to Join” list in my mind.
1. The good news is proclaimed. God’s grace, love, forgiveness and acceptance is not only preached, it is modeled, lived and shared.
2. There is a clear vision. The church’s mission statement is embraced by the congregation: “Trinity Lutheran Church is a family of followers of Jesus Christ, committed to sharing the gospel and serving all of God’s people with love and hospitality.”
3. Biblical precepts are taught in a way that makes them relevant.
4. There is a freshness and vitality about the place.
5. It is evangelical. There is a call to serve others and proclaim the gospel.
6. There is an equality of members. It is understood that this is God’s facility, not the pastor’s, nor the wealthier members', nor those families’ dating back generations.
7. Newcomers are welcomed and encouraged to share insights and ideas and are assisted in exploring their spiritual gifts.
8. Ordination is open to women.
9. Questions are explored in an atmosphere of mutual respect. For someone who has as much to unlearn as well as to learn.
10. Lives (within and without the church) are changed.
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