About 13 years ago, I walked into the First Church of the Nazarene in Chico, California. I was greeted by a lovely woman, named Laura, who knew exactly who I was (though we'd never met before), who had invited me, and showed me where to sit. The pastor's sermon sounded like he'd had spies falling me around for weeks and written it just for me. After church, the women had a baby shower for the youth minister's wife. I was invited! Whoa! This was my first time, and they were already including me!
I knew I didn't have to try out other churches. I think I went to one with a guy I was dating at the time, out of obligation. I already knew, though, that the Nazarene church was the place for me. It had nothing to do with the music, the doctrine, or anything else. It was the way the people made me feel. It was the way they accepted me for who I was and invited me to be a part of their family.
We went through a lot of changes there. A year or two after I started going there, our pastor retired. We had some visiting pastors, and then an interim pastor. Finally we got a permanent pastor (or so we thought) and felt like we were moving forward again. My best friend and roommate, Michele and I got heavily involved in ministry and built strong friendships in the church. That pastor changed the name of the church, made a few other changes, then left our church after a short time. It was about a year, I think.
Finally, a young (early thirties?) pastor from Washington came to interview with our church. He had all kinds of fresh ideas for making our church relevant in our community. He was a little geeky and really into audio and video. His wife was sweet and authentic. She didn't put on your typical "pastor's wife" heirs. His daughters were (still are) adorable! Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the one!
Things kept humming along. In 2005, pastor Ron gave me the job of outreach coordinator. That title didn't come with much of a description and nothing in the way of a budget. I knew I was in charge of training and scheduling the greeting team. I knew I was responsible for coordinating and planning a few well executed large events per year. That translated to a concert on our football field behind the church, and an annual Superbowl party.
Pastor Ron gave me the number of a guy named Kevin to call for help planning the concert. More on that to come in tomorrow's post. Spoiler alert: that guy is now my husband! With a lot of help from people in the church, the first Superbowl party was a huge success. Over the years, it actually got so big, we had to put it on hold a while until we could some things in place, such as child care, to deal with the large volume of people showing up to watch the big game on our larger than life screen.
Forgive me for getting a little off track while I reminisce a bit. I just want you to understand that church was a big part of my life. It wasn't about religion, either. It was about the relationships.
I knew it would be a challenge to find a church for our family when we moved to Texas. I had been warned that churches in the "bible belt" were considerably old fashioned compared to the casual worship atmosphere we were used to. We waited a week or two to get settled in before we tackled the task of finding our church home here.
The first one was so big, no one even knew we were new. We weren't greeted, or shown where to go. Even dropping the girls off at kid's church was a very cold experience. In the end, we brought them with us to grown-up church. They all start to blend together after that. We did attend the Nazarene church here one week. While the people were super friendly and welcoming, it just still didn't feel like "home" to us. We decided to come back if we just couldn't find anything else. We attended another church that currently meets in a high school. That one was a little better as far as being more contemporary, but not so much on the friendliness side. It was ok, but it still didn't feel like "the one." Another church we attended was borderline scary, and we ended up walking out halfway through the service. Note to self: be very wary of "non-denominational," that can mean ANYTHING.
I was getting really discouraged. I began to question my motives and what I was looking for. I mean, it's not supposed to be about how I feel, right? It's supposed to be about worshiping God, studying God's word, and serving, right? Yes, it's about all of that. I can even do all of that from the comfort of my home. But there's one big problem with that. We were made for relationships.
This past Sunday, we attended another church. I had found the website for this one before we ever left home and thought it looked promising. I had forgotten about it though until Saturday. It really looked like a casual, comfortable place for people to come meet Jesus. A little burned out and skeptical from our previous experiences, we got up early, went to breakfast, then went to the church early. After the walk-out experience, we wanted to check things out before checking our daughter in to kids' church.
The minute we walked in the door, we recognized the music the worship team was practicing. It sounded just like the music at our church back home! A couple of ladies greeted us, asked if we were new. One offered to show me to kids' church. Kevin did his usual thing and went inside the sanctuary to check things out and strike up conversation with the sound guys. He gleans a lot of important information this way.
It turns out the gal giving me the tour was the children's ministry pastor's wife. She was very genuine with me, asking questions and listening. There was one question she hadn't quite caught the answer to, so she admitted that and asked me again. Part of our conversation made it clear, without either of us coming out and saying what was wrong with it, that this church was NOT like the walk-out church. Their names were slightly similar, but no, they are very different. I could tell the pastor's wife was picking up on exactly what had bothered us about the other church.
We think this is "the one." We'll be back again and may even get plugged in to the Wednesday night dinners and monthly connect groups. We're taking it one day at a time. Relationships take time, after all! I am cautiously optimistic that we have found our church home!