10/26/2006

Decision time

I'm not a person who deals well with change. I avoid it whenever possible, and I delay it as long as I can. Even when I know it's going to be good for me, I procrastinate. This is probably one of my most frustrating qualities (certainly to my wife), but even to myself.

The big change I've been resisting lately has been to leave our church home.

I've changed churches twice in my life, and both were related to a change of residence. Both times were somewhat awkward because of the need to meet new people and learn new customs and accommodate slight variations in the liturgy. The Lutheran church, much like the Catholic church, leans heavily on an organized liturgy, which makes the general order of worship very consistent between congregations.

We've been members of this congregation for six years, and had two of our children baptized there. Our kids have done bible school there every year since our oldest was three, and it's the only sunday school they've ever attended. We've also made some good friends in our time there who have encouraged our growth in faith.

In the last year or two, though, we've felt increasingly called away from our church. Much of the problem lies in the progressively shrinking membership. Enrollment at our church, like many small mainline congregations across the country, has been sliding for some time. We've alternately attributed this to intra-congregational strife, bad seeds, poor organization, poor advertising, forgetful membership, an economic downturn, and competition from more contemporary megachurches. I've come over time to doubt that any of these was truly a cause, and some were mostly imagined.

Whatever the cause, the result has been that the sunday school has declined from 8-10 or 10-12 kids in a class to 3, 4, or 5 kids in a class. As the number of students has decreased, the number of parents willing to be involved has also fallen.

The same symptoms have hurt the nursery, which has existed only sporadically. There aren't many families with children younger than sunday school age who have a need for a nursery, but we invariably have one of our own - and for the last two months another. Our youngest son, who is threeish, doesn't belong in a worship service once the sermon starts, and an ambulatory foster child who's never been to church belongs there even less.

With little congregational support for the nursery lately, our options have been to leave worship after communion or to have one of us sit in the nursery every week. That didn't seem so bad when we were taking our second or third child out. Now that it's the fourth... and the fifth... We believe we've been called by God to be foster parents of young children. Should we assume He does not mean for us to be in church?

The idea of leaving is complicated by the fact that there aren't other Lutheran churches nearby that are attractive at first glance. That means we've had to consider other denominations, which is a particular hurdle for me. My grandfather was a Lutheran minister his entire life, and I grew up in the church where he baptized me - the same church where I was confirmed and where I later married my wife. Leaving that church was difficult, but staying was simply impractical because our home was in the city twenty miles away, and there were half a dozen churches within a 10-minute drive. This time around, I'm afraid moving outside the Lutheran church will be a lot like abandoning family. The liturgy, the hymns, the history... It's not part of my faith exactly, but it's part of me nevertheless.

Vursinus said...

GearDaddy (it's so hard not to use your real name), I can certainly sympathize with you on part of this decision process. I was raised LCMS, remember? :-) I ended up going to other churches in college, and even tried LCMS again in grad school, but ultimately ended up where I could make friends and put down roots. If the church is Christ's Body, then it makes sense for me to be in a congregation that I can feel the most integrated into.

Of course, I have also had to wrestle with whether I would leave my present congregation, my home of 16 years now, several times as well. For a while, I was really out of place as a 20-something single who hadn't grown up in that church: I was no longer in the college age crowd, with a built-in set of friends, but I didn't have the ties to families that others my age had that were sons and daughters of the 'church families'. It also didn't help that I was single and childless, when most of the organized fellowship was centered around couples and parents, or was designed to give singles a place to meet mates, when I knew that wasn't in the cards for me (or at least as my church expected.)

I had to make a decision as well when it became clear that my congregational leadership had different views about a subject that was very close and personal to my life, and that I would be tolerated, but perhaps 'loved' only conditionally.

In all of this, I ended up staying (for now) because I guess I'm committed to making it work. When I transferred my membership to join this congregation, I think that obligated me to do whatever is in my power to make it work. I don't know if the same can apply to your situation.

-Wombat

PS- R&L ended up taking a 5 month hiatus from one of their congregations due to the nursery facilities... and then got immediately stricken with flu when they gave it another try! I won't tell you which congregation was disease-ridden. :-)

PPS - I think my comment is longer than your post! sorry!

GearDaddy said...

Actually, I've been thinking of you quite a bit as we've talked about this the last few weeks. We should talk if you come over next week.

And long meaningful comments don't bother me a bit!