Tuesday, January 27, 2015

4/52 :: seeking.

It's those unborn, not-yet-conceived children I worry about. When I wonder why Jordan and I haven't made a decision regarding church, I realize it's because I don't know what I want my children to believe. I don't know if I want to baptize my infants or teach them four-part harmony. I don't know what kind of hymns I want them to sing or if I want them to give up things for Lent or if I want them to call another human being "Father." 


When we moved to Thomasville, we decided we were going to find a new church home. And there are all kinds of places on the Internet devoted to discussions about church and what it means for millennials and whether it's important to our generation. I won't debate that here, because to me and to Jordan, it is important. We grew up going to church; we love the act of gathering together with believers, even if it's painful, even if it's inconvenient. 

So we go to church, every Sunday, just like we've done for the past 29 years of our lives. 

Only now, we go to a church where a priest blesses the bread and the wine. We pull out benches and kneel in prayer. We say the Nicene Creed. We sing songs I don't always know, and a choir sings with us. I don't lift my hands in worship or clap to a beat. I bow when a cross comes down the aisle, and I stare at a 10-foot Jesus hanging on a large, wooden cross.

And I am happy. 

But the thing no one really tells you about growing up and making adult decisions is that rarely are they clear-cut. Maybe it's just me, but I see a lot of grey in this life, and a lot of grey in my faith. 

I am happy in this new church setting, but it is not easy. 

For years on this blog, I have avoided talking specifically about my church denomination or faith identification. That's been intentional, because I think we can talk together more safely when labels aren't being brandished about. Often, we're more alike than not, and labels can get in the way of conversation.

So I've avoided mentioning I'm a member of the church of Christ. Not just in label, either. I am third generation church of Christ. I went to a church of Christ college. My brother graduated from a church of Christ seminary program. Jordan's dad is an elder in the church of Christ; his granddad is a church of Christ minister and professor. 

That faith is in our blood, so when I talk about attending an Anglican church, it isn't easy. In fact, it's something we haven't told a lot of people, because in the traditional, more conservative church of Christ, attending a new denomination can be seen as conversion. This isn't a "pick what's best for you" situation; this is a "choose between right and wrong." 

We are choosing, at the moment, something many people in the faith we love and grew up in might believe is wrong.

In my family, we have always talked about faith openly and honestly. Some of my happiest memories are of gathering around the dining room table, discussing tough decisions about church and faith and life. So my parents are well-versed in these discussions. Our current choice to attend an Anglican church is one we've shared with them, and they've asked questions and they've been respectful, and I am grateful. But one night, a few weeks ago, I was talking with my mom on the phone. And we were talking about church, and I think I asked, up-front, what they thought about what we were doing. 

My mom said, "You know, honey, I think we're just a little confused, but we'll be okay."

She didn't mean to, but her answer broke my heart.

To my knowledge, I have never confused my parents. I have been the kid who does right. The kid who makes straight As, who wins awards, who marries the really nice guy. For the most part, the decisions we make, even still, make our parents happy and proud, so to confuse them? It hurts. 

So every Sunday now, I am happy. There are no stomachaches, there are no headaches. Women read Scripture from the pulpit and pour wine into my mouth. I kneel in prayer and go forward for communion and recite a creed I'd only ever heard about. And I love it. The robes and the priests and the pomp and circumstance are foreign to me, but I don't mind it. So I am happy, but I am also sad. Because the songs they sing aren't familiar to me yet. And my parents aren't sitting beside me, and the faces in the crowd still belong to strangers. 

I don't know what to do with all of these feelings yet. Shauna Niequist says “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” Each Sunday, then, is an exercise in both celebration and growth, and some days are better -- or worse -- than others. 

The decisions Jordan and I make together as a family are never ones we make lightly. (We are both notorious over-thinkers.) And I wonder if our different sets of parents are both asking: Which one is pulling the reins here? Meaning, do my parents think Jordan is leading me down the path to Anglicanism? Do Jordan's parents think I've pulled him toward liturgy?

The comforting truth about all of this is that we both have questions we're asking, and the answers we're getting are leading us to the Anglican church, individually and together. Jordan's questions are more about church history, and even his closest friend showed absolutely no surprise when Jordan told him where we were going to church. It's not all that surprising, given the questions Jordan has been asking since I've known him.

My questions have to do with culture and women's roles and never quite finding my place in a conservative church of Christ setting. We both know, too: The answers we're reaching might be very different if we were living somewhere else. The church of Christ lives and breathes in autonomy, meaning if we lived in a different town, in a different part of the country, we might very well be able to find a church of Christ that could live comfortably with our questions. But we chose Thomasville, and for now, this is home, and our questions, right now, are being answered in the same place.

Of course, anyone who asks questions knows: The more questions you ask, the more you'll keep asking. 

And so there has been no confirmation for us. We are not members of the Anglican church. We haven't finished asking our questions. 

Instead, we go to church every Sunday. We worship the same Jesus we've always worshiped; we seek comfort in the Father and wisdom from the Spirit, just like we've always done. These are things we believe can be done in somber, quiet acts and in happy, celebratory ones, in tiny, wooden churches of Christ and ornate Anglican cathedrals. The God we serve is so big, we believe He's got all of us wrapped up in His gentle hands.

We are not Anglican. Probably, maybe, we are still members of the church of Christ. But if you're slapping labels on things, maybe you should know: We are simply two kids asking questions, doing our best to please the Father. And we are both hopeful His grace will cover us, because sometimes, that has to be enough. It is my prayer, regardless of the decisions we make, that it will be enough for our children, too.


Alissa said...

I really love your posts. I think we would be good real life friends.

Brittany said...

Annie, I think I've told you this before, but in case I haven't--your thoughts on faith and religion and finding your own way have been one of the greatest comforts as I've had my own faith journey over the past several years. I don't love labels either, but sometimes in specifics, there is a lot of universality. Does that make sense? Your specific story feels so close to mine--worrying about history, and culture, and women's roles, and family, and tradition, and blood, and what in the world my parents will think. I know all of that so intimately, so it's nice to know that someone else (in a different place, from a different denomination) is experiencing it too. Thanks for being brave enough to share.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, Annie. It makes me feel good to know that there are intelligent, faithful Christians who still don't have the whole denomination thing figured out.

My husband and I recently moved to Durham, NC so I can attend divinity school. I grew up in the Reformed Church in America (Calvin Calvin Calvin!) and husband grew up in a Pentecostal church, and both of us were left with questions and not sure we should be members of either denomination. (I haven't sworn off the RCA or anything; I would just need more time to wrestle with some theological things before becoming a member.)

I've always been one for understanding a church's theology and using facts and reason for making (sometimes over-thought) decisions. So after a summer of hopping from one church to the next, I don't understand our landing on a church whose theology is still pretty unknown to me and just "feels" right. But it does and we're going with it and I think it's okay for now.

Ashley Johnson said...

Annie, I can relate to this so much. The Spirit has been stretching Hunter and I more than I would have anticipated these past years in Athens. Especially now that we have Grady...our son, who we pass on our friendship and hope in Jesus. We ask a lot of questions about our upbringing and what we were taught and if we will teach him the same things. It is so comforting to know we aren't the only ones searching. I think searching is incredibly Biblical and beautiful. Thank you for your thoughts...

Lauren Branham said...

Hmm. This is good. Currently my husband and I are attending a church that is far more conservative than either of us would prefer. But the newly married class we go to? Heaven. We are part of an incredible community of believers in the exact stage as us. We have met some of our best friends there.

And so our current predicament has brought me to this thought: Church, or the church you are currently attending, doesn't always have to check all your boxes. It just needs to be a place that you experience the community of Christ and get to worship God. That's it. It won't be perfect until we get to heaven.

Leslie said...

I say again...you're not alone! Love this.

Jules Kendall said...

I believe that questioning and searching is the job of the faithful. It's easy to stay in a church you grew up in, one in which you have a long and storied history. Comfortable, safe, familiar. But maybe that's not what God wants from us. Maybe He wants us to risk, question, learn something new, do something new. Our floundering brings us closer to God.

I had a slightly different experience than you. I grew up Catholic and after high school attended a liberal, faithless college. I searched for years trying to find something that fit. Ultimately, I returned to the Catholic church when our eldest son was born. It was what I never knew I always wanted.

I can say all those years of guessing and searching and trying things out made me so confident in my faith. I believe the same will happen for you.

Laura said...

It's interesting how we so quickly make assumptions about what we don't know, isn't it? If I'm honest with myself, I really don't know anything about the Anglican Church, and even if I did, who am I to judge? I think it's wonderful that you finally found a place that you feel is right for you guys, whether it's just for a season or it's for the rest of your life. I think Christians get way too caught up on titles and denominations, and we miss the whole point of why God came - to love and save people. I hope you continue to have peace in your new church home.