Friday, May 10, 2013

Why I'm Looking for a Church Again

My wife and I are back in the market for a church. We were attending a big Pentecostal church for about a year and a half, but then I made the mistake of wanting to get involved as a leader of a Bible study. This was a mistake for several reasons.

First, because this church, which kept saying it was about the "things all Christians can agree on," was just as Pentecostal as any PAOC affiliated group I'd experienced previously. I hoped they might be different, because they kept saying they were different. I was dubious about the idea that there is anything all Christians can agree on, but decided to keep my mouth shut, since I really wanted to have a church to attend with my family. But once I indicated I wanted to teach the Bible, something I trained six years of my life for, and then spent another ten actually doing, I was told that I needed to pass through seven fiery hoops which represented the seven-fold Spirit of God in Revelation (okay, that's not really true, but it might as well have been). I would have to become a member, take membership classes, sign a contract, and agree to everything this church believed. Initially, I didn't see that as a problem, until suddenly we went from "things all Christians can agree on" to "things only conservative Charismatics believe." We came to a compromise by which I would co-lead with someone else who was already a member in good standing.

The first study night proved to be the next pitfall, because apparently no one studies the Bible in big churches; you get a leader's guidebook that gives you a bunch of lame discussion starters but never requires that you or your group do anything more than read the passage briefly. You can then talk about whatever the hell you want, just so long as it doesn't involve exegesis or historical context. Too heady. Too weighty. And to top it all off, you get a shiny DVD with some guy you've never met sharing his story of conversion. This wouldn't be so bad, if our study was about conversion, but it wasn't. It was about waiting on God. The Bible passage was (drum's a Pentecostal church...drum crescendo...) the second chapter of Acts, as the apostles wait on God on the day of Pentecost. This would be infuriating all on its own, given that it's typical of most churches to have a screaming bias to one or two favorite passages, and Pentecostals are exceedingly fond of Acts 2. But I really couldn't be too mad about that, since we really weren't studying the passage anyhow.

So I'm watching the shiny guy from the shiny DVD tell us his conversion story in a study about waiting on God, when he says the following words: "And then something happened, which I can only describe as demonic oppression."

He did not follow up that statement with a lurid tale of fiery pentagrams, bastardized Latin phrases in a Cookie-monster voice, or floating even five inches above his bed. It made me pine for the days of Mike Warnke. In the 1980s, when conversion stories involved demons, they were at least colorful and entertaining. All I could think was, "that was the only way you could describe it?" How about depression, or drugs, or bad gas? How about a deep mood swing, or a shit day? And more to the point, what the hell does any of this have to do with waiting on God?

I waited for him to roll that demonic oppression around to the topic of waiting, but it remained the first speed-bump in the evening's discussion.

The second came when one of the attendees claimed that modern Christians have it harder than the early Christians did, because we have so much awful stuff to deal with. You know, the usual grocery list of things conservative Christians think are destroying the fabric of space and time: porn, gays, gay porn. I wanted to say something about living in a society where stage plays involved massive dildos, or one where women were second-class citizens, or one where you could own slaves, or, say turn Christians into light fixtures using pitch and FIRE, or something about being eaten by lions...but I was simply too stunned to speak.

So I vented to Jenica on the way home about these speed-bumps. When we got home, I took a look at the book we were supposed to read as an accompaniment to our so-called discussion of the Book of Acts. The first chapter was about the writer meeting the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and arguing against same-sex marriage. While this was to be expected, given the source, the way the author talked about countries that allowed for same-sex marriage resulted in the third speed-bump, which was more of a giant-sized pot-hole, like the one that the Alien Tripod rises out of in Spielberg's War of the Worlds. The author said that he didn't want his country to "fall into darkness, as other countries had."


Admittedly, it was the start of Edmonton's descent into darkness, our annual shift into the long night (we live close to Winterfell), when eventually, the sun sets at 5:30 p.m. and rises at something like 7:30 a.m. Physical darkness, yes. Spiritual darkness?

Sorry. No. I love Canada. I love Edmonton. I love that conservative, red-neck Alberta has passed permissive same-sex marriage laws. Even before my paradigm shift towards openly supporting same-sex marriage, I was in favor of the law, because it was just. It was fair. If two hetero people "live in sin," they have civic rights related to common-law marriage, even thought they aren't married. If two same-sex people just live together, they have none of these rights, fornicatin' be damned. What's the sense in that?

At any rate, a line had been crossed. I came out of the closet and admitted that, not only was I not opposed to gay marriage, I supported it. If the church would prefer I desist in being a teacher's helper because of my views, I was cool to step away. I'm not interested in being a shit-disturber anymore. At least, not to the faith community I belong to. It's disruptive and often hurtful. I prefer to live my life and hope others see it as an example.

So we left. Sadly, that was last fall, and we still haven't found what we're looking for, which will be the subject of some upcoming posts, including "What I'm Looking For in a Church and WTF doesn't it exist?" and "OMG! Hip Churches, Hip Pastors, Lame Exegesis of the Third Commandment."


  1. are we going to try church in a garage at all again... can we help again?

  2. Sooner or later, you're going to accept the fact that God is calling you to be an Anglican...

    (runs and ducks...)

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  4. I've heard this story from you, nice to have it in written, linkable form. We tried this church out, wasn't really our thing from the getgo. Generic, predictable, knew it wouldn't work out. One of the more difficult things with dealing with "churches" is that sometimes they still do good. I have a friend who has been through a lot of tough times past few years, and the youth-oriented service at the church in question has really helped her through it. So I try not to shittalk them too much. But from re-reading the paoc statement of faith, style of music, kinds of sermons, I knew it was a pass for me. Then your story makes it more hilarious and painfully sad at the same time. I know those couple people don't represent the entire church, but you're right. It's not really a place to get along, it's a place where this specific kind of christian can get along.

    Their youth services advertises itself as "messy." I laughed and laughed and laughed...

  5. Anonymous5:07 PM

    Tim: so say we all! But are there any affirming Anglican churches with rockin' contemporary services in Edmonton?

  6. I can't think of any, if contemporary means music led by rock bands.

    I was into that for a while, then I got tired of it. Ours has a balance of traditional and contemporary, but the contemporary tends to be contemporary hymns, not 'worship songs'.

  7. Tim, I've accepted that I'd do better in an Anglican church! It's my wife who hopes for the rockin' contemporary stuff. And I don't much like modern worship lyrics, which is why we often wrote our own stuff at the Gathering - sometimes based on hymns!

  8. Try Christcity on 156st & St Albert trail

  9. Anonymous8:47 PM

    I'm trying to adapt to an Anglican church, but it's difficult. Problems along the line Bonhoeffer pointed to at Riverside. Despite many good souls there is not enough soul. Services seem flat – the real time call and response essential to a vibrant service is missing. Photocopied “Read your lines” don't do it. It's a problem: How do you mesh the inspiring majesty of tradition and the immediacy of spirit here and now? I don't know, so I keep going.