Note: This is part of an ongoing, periodic series where I’ve share insights and lessons about finding a new “church home,” as well some of our experiences and encounters—amusing, confusing, heartbreaking…and quirky.
Our search for a new “church home” began more than three years ago.
In order to avoid wasting our time, we had some specific ideas of what we were looking for in a church.
Obviously, some churches would be eliminated, based on their denomination affiliation. Usually, I could tell by the NAME of the church if it was a place we would want to visit...or a place that would want us there in the first place.
One thing we've found, the WELCOME sign out front is not the determining factor.
A couple of times, we thought we’d found “the one,” only to be disappointed; the reasons we stopped visiting made us feel like we were the Jerry Seinfeld of church seekers.
Example: We’d been attending a church for several months. We loved the affirming and progressive pastor. Then, the church voted to make a firm non-inclusive stance on homosexuals in the ministry, demanding their gay youth minister be fired. We left, and their pastor resigned rather than comply.
After a while, I noticed a distinct pattern emerge, like a timeline from our first visit to our decision to stop visiting. (Almost like the stages of grief.)
I never anticipated it would take this long.
For that reason, there’ve been suggestions we’re too...picky or demanding, or seeking perfection. That's not true, but we were looking for connection. When I talk about the reality that some churches would not be interested in us being part of their community, there are friends who seem surprised, or skeptical. So I've put the question to them “Could we go to YOUR church?”
I've had a few question why we even bother at all.
There are (I think) at least two valid reasons the process has taken so long:
- When we find a church we like, we will visit for several months to help make an informed decision. In most cases, it’s not possible to get a valid perspective in one or two visit. (Not always. There’ve been times when we knew before the end of the first visit! Once we both got an unexplainable “creepy” vibe, and left a few minutes after we arrived.)
- Visiting churches is exhausting, like an endless Dating Game. There’ve been times we've suspended our search (for weeks or months) and just stayed home on Sundays.
We've been to lots of churches, of various shapes, sizes and denominations.
We’re heard numerous ministers—male, female, black, Asian, heterosexual, gay and lesbian.
None of them were our “church home.”
Honestly, we were ready to give up.
Then, in the fall of last year, we began visiting a United Church of Christ several miles from our home. Because of the church’s history and involvement in the LGBTQ community, we knew it would be welcoming and affirming, but it was a bit outside the geographical parameters we preferred.
And it’s huge!
Clarification: That’s not an exaggeration. There are three Sunday morning services (two in English, one in Spanish), and a contemporary worship service on Wednesday evening. The combined attendance with the four services is probably more than 5,000. The services are also streamed live, and viewed by more than 50,000 people in 60+ countries around the world.
I admit, I never imagined myself as part of a “mega-church,” and it’s one reason we’d never attended during our extended search. I was concerned about opportunities for connection and service in such a vast congregation. I've also never been part of a church where I could not personally know the Pastor, and I can’t imagine that’s possible in a ministry this size.
Regardless of my reservation, we decided to visit. And we've continued to visit, learning about the church, as well as attending various events and groups to get to know people.
More and more, it felt like a place we could fit in.
Last Sunday, we stood before the congregation and repeated our Covenant vows, becoming members of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ.
Please extend a little grace and patience as I take some extra time/space to share a few things about this congregation that became the deciding factors for us.
The essential message is unapologetically progressive.
I've been to those churches and ministries where I was told what I must believe, where it was all spelled out in precise, black-and-white doctrinal statements and recited creeds. I've been to the places where it was about reveling in being “right,” labeling with disdain those who disagreed as “wrong.”
My Faith Journey took me away from that kind of codified system of beliefs. What I believe is important to me, but it no longer requires that I judge others who see it differently, or spend my time and energy seeking to convince and/or convert them.
This church is decidedly Christian. Jesus is honored, celebrated and revered for His life, His teaching, His example and His sacrifice.
I appreciate the church’s commitment to the Bible as part of God’s revelation to us, but not as the only revelation. We are encouraged to see God in many ways, especially in one another.
I truly value that the Gospel is seen as GOOD News of grace, love and inclusion.
The church’s mission statement puts it this way:
“The Mission of Cathedral of Hope is to reclaim Christianity as
a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.”
The congregation is visually diverse.
It struck me the first time we attended: looking around the vast sanctuary, I saw people of different genders, ages, races, ethnicities and gender identities. As we've continued to attend, it’s clear we come from many cultural and religious backgrounds. Some will kneel and do the “sign of the cross” as they enter their pews, and others will energetically raise their hands during worship. One Sunday, we honored St. Frances and Franciscan monks were present. We've had a Rabbi participate during Jewish holidays.
Everyone is welcomed and embraced.
For many of my straight friends, this might not be seen as important. But for me, I love that I can openly and proudly take my husband’s hand as we walk down for communion.
There’s an intentional approach to inclusivity.
As stated in the membership materials “Gender exclusive language, like racist language, impoverishes us all.” Jesus was…Jesus is…inclusive, so there’s a conscious effort to bring our language into agreement with that reality. For example, God is Father, but also Mother and Parent, just as depicted in Scripture. Many familiar songs from my background are used on Sunday, but sexist, masculine words are changed to reflect a more inclusive, less patriarchal approach. (e.g., Rise Up, O Men of God)
The pragmatic outreach is socially conscious and justice driven.
I think one of the things that impressed me most is all the work the church does in the community and beyond. Just a cursory reading of the church’s calendar shows the many practical ways the church impacts the needs of real people, in real ways. There are workshops on topics that range from coming out, to end-of-life planning, grief, and Bible studies. There are programs for children and youth. Every week, there are multiple 12-Step programs, as well as breakfasts and lunches for the homeless in the church’s kitchen.
The church doesn't engage in partisan politics, but is committed to social justice.
Our ministers actively advocate for equality, speaking out for the rights of all people, whether it’s the rights of undocumented individuals or of LGBTQ individuals. The cause may be refugees, marriage, women or LGBTQ adoption, but they are vocal and visible.
As I said, at this church, the Gospel is Good News, and it’s shown in tangible ways.
Yes, it’s been a long journey. (And a long blog post.)
I’m glad we found this church. I’m excited for what’s ahead.
Most of all, I’m thrilled to say “We're...home.”
P.S. I wanted to include this link to recent news story a local TV station did about Cathedral of Hope. I think it shows something of our church's ministry, and it's importance in the lives of many who've been wounded by the church in the past.