On Sunday, Richard and I joined a new church. This had been a long journey for both of us. It took a lot of discernment on my part to figure out if it was worth it and how best to do it.
I don't take the decision to move my membership lightly. In fact, part of why I waited so long was because I didn't want to be someone who would drag his membership across to any "flavor of the month" congregation.
Growing up, I was a member of the Lutheran church in which I grew up. The name of the church is also the name of the town, which shows you how small the town was and the identification the church had with the town. I was happy keeping my membership there through high school, a year of being an exchange student in Belgium, and college. After college, and after Youth Encounter, I knew that I would likely be living in Minneapolis for quite a long time. I felt like it was time to move my membership to within the synod where I was going to be residing.
I had worked a summer at a large church in Minneapolis, and I had found a pretty good community there, so I decided that I should join. I also got really involved in the church. However, the church had a lot of struggles, and these sometimes came out in unhealthy ways. I feel that I put up with quite a bit, but the difficulties were overshadowing the very positive worship experience I was having. I was getting tired. I don't want to shame this church, so I'm leaving details vague. Needless to say, I dropped out of the worship life of this congregation.
Then, I spent the next five years worshiping at different churches around the Twin Cities. I had friends who were pastors or youth staff, so I would visit their church. There were several churches that had great reputations, so I would visit those places. Then, one winter, Richard and I attempted to drive to worship in Edina in a snowstorm. After 45 minutes, we were barely 1/3 of the way there. We decided it was time to give up driving all over creation.
We decided that it was time to try the churches in our own neighborhood. These churches were relatively unknown. They didn't have the big reputation that some of the other congregations had. We had simply overlooked them. However, in our neighborhood, there were 8 ELCA churches and one LCMS church. We could walk to most of them. We decided to visit the church three blocks east of our house (as opposed to the church three blocks south of our house). It was a pleasant experience. The people were nice. The preaching was timely and topical, with a gospel message to wrap it all together. Best of all, we were relatively unknown.
We continued to worship there occasionally, until we were recognizable. We couldn't be anonymous in this small church. The pastor got to know us, and would chat quite a bit. Sometimes he would bring up membership, and we shared our concerns with him. The fact is that I spend a lot of my time and energy trying to make TNP work. I also have a background in congregational leadership, so I can recognize struggles happening behind the scenes. I wanted to be a worshiper at this place without getting in over my head with activities galore. I had activities. I had community. I had a ministry.
This went on for a few years (like four). Eventually, we decided that we should move our membership to our primary worshiping community. The next delay was that I was doing a lot of preaching and temple talks at other congregations for TNP. I was never around when they were doing New Member Sunday. Finally, on Sunday, everything came together for us to be able to join our new church home. It was a good day. I'm hoping that I can keep a healthy level of involvement at the place, and still keep my primary focus on TNP and other ministries that I work with.
But it feels good. It's a small congregation. We can walk to church. The preaching is good. It feels like home.