We are a family without a home.
We are not homeless in the conventional definition, but we are without a home in which we can worship with others.
We left our church of 8 years about 14 months ago. We started in that church when my oldest was about 9, my youngest daughter was a baby. We left our previous church of 6 years for several doctrinal changes presented by the ELCA that didn’t align with their previous theology and didn’t align with the bible, and the changeover in Pastors supported the new ideology. I was also facing a decision about a divorce, and my ex was triangulating members of the church against me, even though he had never expressed he had real faith or repentance about anything and only attended the church because he didn’t want to appear as if I had no husband; I essentially “dragged him to church.” (I could write stories about the joy of attending church with someone that didn’t really want to be there, but that’s not the subject of this post).
Upon finding our last church, I was elated. The theology was sound, I felt welcome even as a single mother, and I found support I needed in the DivorceCare class which walked us through biblical definitions of marriage and biblical reasons for divorce.
After a few years of attendance, my girls were all old enough for Sunday school and we started jumping in with both feet. I taught Sunday school every other week for about 4 years, starting in the Kindergarten class and eventually first grade. My two oldest started helping in classes at age 13 and 15 with the little ones, then my oldest taught her own classes. We volunteered at VBS every year, and when my next two children were old enough, they also volunteered in Sunday School classes. Every other weekend, you would find us at church Saturday night for our family services, and both services on Sunday serving in the Children’s ministries. We also served in the food bank ministry once a month, volunteered every year to pack Thanksgiving boxes and I delivered them, took names off the Christmas tree for our community, and we just did everything we possibly could with our church. It was a part of us.
Somewhere in the middle of that, I remarried. My husband had not been involved in church since his youth when he attended a Catholic Parish, but his divorce drew him closer to Jesus, realizing the miracles in his life were not made by him, but by the hand of Jesus. He started attending church with me early in our courtship, and his heart changed. He was baptized. We were married. And it was a joy to attend church with him, and I watched his faith grow.
We loved our pastor. He was “Pastor Sean” and was accessible to all in the congregation, very theologically educated, and very human. He spread himself too thin over many years and burned out, trying to be everything to every one. He took a sabbatical to deal with the burnout, and when he was ready to return, the church elders forced him out of the church. You can find Pastor Sean today ministering among the poor, among those that need it the most; he is LIVING his faith. Here is his ministry: JESUS ON COLFAX
I believe that is where Pastor Sean is supposed to be. His heart for those in need is huge and although I miss him and I miss his wisdom, teaching, and love, I know this was meant to be.
But where did that leave our church? Some of the associate pastors took over for the next year while they looked for a new Pastor. I actually enjoyed most of their sermons, I thought they continued to be theologically sound, though there were a few things I objected to, or was confused about, so I sent emails for clarification. I never received a response.
One of the associate pastors, whom I really liked, then left. He was leaving for a completely different career.
The kids director I adored, who was my leader for Sunday school, left the church. The one that took her place, I also adored, but she left within a year (though her leaving was to relocate with her husband).
Within a few years, the church was completely changed. Only one associate pastor remained, the Children’s pastor was forced out (whom I actually respected and thought had strong theological background), another elder left, and a new pastor was appointed. He was a Seattle native, educated in Chicago, and very much in the “woke theology” frame of mind.
The first thing our church did when the new Pastor was hired was to start a campaign to replace the screens and sound system in the church. I honestly couldn’t understand this move as their equipment was far “fancier” than any I had seen in any church so far. The sound was good and loud, screens were large, so we did not support that campaign as a family.
The new Pastor’s sermons were mostly good. They called out places we needed to grow, supported biblical teachings, and I didn’t have any big objections aside from the money going into the new sound system we “had to have.”
When the new system was installed, they also installed new flashing lights, a smoke machine, and the sound was incredibly loud. The first day we attended after the new system was installed, resulted in a migraine from the lights and smoke, and the sound really bothered my ears. I tried a few more services in the sanctuary, but every time it triggered a migraine. I like to take notes, write passages, and really engage when I am in worship, and I couldn’t do that in the sanctuary.
We did have a café with tables, a TV screen and sound live from the sanctuary, so we started sitting in the café for service. It was brightly lit, and I could take notes and listen intently. It was a good compromise, until one sermon that spoke to me (even if it wasn’t specifically meant for me, it felt like it); I can’t tell you the exact phrasing of the sermon, but the gist was that even if you don’t like the music, or you don’t like the lighting, or the sound, you really have to go into the sanctuary or you aren’t being a proper Christian in this church.
That was just the beginning of my irritation at his sermons. In one sermon, he told the story that if you just love someone enough, and pray enough, that person will see the light (as his father did in his old age, after being an abusive father). I had left an abusive marriage, and it took every bit of courage I had to leave, and this was after years of praying EVERY SINGLE DAY for my ex to change his heart, even sitting in church with him. He never heard the sermons, in fact after some sermons he would tell me how I wasn’t living that sermon and convict me, without ever looking into his own heart. I had to learn to accept that even though you pray, sometimes God says no, there is a different plan for your life. But his sermon seemed to convey that he believes that I just didn’t pray hard enough or want it enough.
Fast forward to many different sermons–some that promoted the new Critical Race Theory idea–and I realized I was losing my faith in that church. We were dealing with other problems in the children’s ministry; after forcing the children’s pastor out, we were learning that there would be no more discipline allowed (we had some students that acted out constantly, making it difficult to teach others) such as taking them out of the classroom if disruptive. We had several students now that were identifying as transgender, and we had to accept their own designations as fact and treat them as if they were that gender, all the while confusing many other students that could see that their designation was not what God had created. It was creating a very un-biblical children’s ministry, and we finally decided that after years of dedication, we would not participate in the children’s ministry any longer.
We pulled back a little and focused on our weekly worship for a couple months, and helping with charitable ministries like the food bank while we decided if it was really time to leave the church.
The last straw was when two of our children were taking guitar lessons from the music pastor at the church. Suddenly, we got word the pastor was back in CA and they had to cancel a couple lessons with no explanation (and the phone call came just an hour before we were to arrive at church for the lesson). We found out weeks later that he had been sexually inappropriate with another member of the music team and that when he was questioned, he expressed no remorse or guilt. He was asked to leave the church.
That, in itself, was positive that he was asked to leave. What bothered us was that not one person asked us about our teenaged girls, whether we knew what had happened and were there any warning signs with them? My friend in the church knew about the discipline weeks before because her husband was on the security team, but we were told nothing. We had been at the church for 8 years, volunteered for more than half that time (and at the end, there were 5 of us regularly working in the children’s ministry) and yet not one person in the church reached out to us until AFTER the church-wide declaration in services that the music pastor had been dismissed.
We felt as if the church did not see us as anything but warm bodies in seats. Most of the people we had grown close to had left by this point in rapid succession, the theology was becoming “woke,” and the children’s ministry was a shell of what it had been.
Leaving has not been easy. It has been painful, we miss being involved in church in so many ways. We tried a new church within a few weeks, and it seemed okay for the most part, but then the pandemic hit and like 99% of churches, it accepted the government’s power over it and closed down.
So here we are. We tried online church for awhile, but found it but a hollow word to hear a church say they are here for their community and the body of Christ when we aren’t even allowed to walk in the church doors and pray and worship. I tried to find the passage where Jesus tells his apostles to avoid sick people, or Paul’s letter to the church about closing down when illness strikes, but I couldn’t find any of those passages.
I’ve grown weary of believing most churches are “in this world” and not “of this world.” I now cannot attend church without a face covering, so we just don’t attend; blocking my airways causes panic attacks, and people’s expressions covered by cloth trigger my PTSD. My children quickly get headaches from facial coverings. And honestly, after studying immunology, virology, microbiology, biochemistry, etc. in my undergraduate, and regularly reading medical and scientific journal articles for the last 30 years, I find NO support that face coverings do anything but depress your immune system, increase your chances of bacterial pneumonia, and increase your chances of illness from touching the mask with dirty hands. In fact, many studies outline that masks in surgery are even more tradition than sound science. But science is no longer science, it is political, and the churches have gone along with the assertion that masks will save everyone (even though in the city of Denver, they have had a mask mandate since last August, and it has never seemed to result in any changes in infection rates–this is just one example, there are more than 10 studies now showing that lockdowns and masks change nothing).
My response when I have asked why the church has bent to the government demands: the church has a “social responsibility” to protect its flock from getting sick. Somehow, though, they don’t seem to have a social responsibility to be there anytime a Christian needs to pray, or needs the human connection of worship. Suicide rates have increased from isolation, where is that social responsibility? Where is the social responsibility to help my children grow in their faith in fellowship with other young people, instead of isolating them and making them feel more like the church is just an option in this world, not a necessity like breath and water?
I have to wonder if anyone is going to question the drop in attendance in church, and ask the hard questions like “why was it so easy for the church to just abandon believers?” Sure, there’s online church, but that is not gathering in His name. As a large home educating family, we study the bible most days in many different ways, but it’s not the same as human connection in Christ.
I have not yet found a church within 20-30 minutes drive that does not either follow Critical Race Theory, require face coverings for the duration of worship, or have lead pastors that have never gone to Seminary school or lacks a theology degree.
I don’t feel like God has forsaken me, but I feel man has forsaken Christ and the bible and, in turn, the very Church we are supposed to belong to. For now “wherever two or more are gathered in his name” will have to be our church.