Thursday, July 31, 2008

Choosing a church

How does one go about chosing a church? I don't mean, how do you find a church that you like going to. I mean, if you're starting from scratch and you and your significant other aren't sure what type of church to go to, where on earth do you start?

I grew up Catholic. As an adult, there are some things I really like about the Catholic Church and some things I'm not sure about. I don't have the mindset that any one demonination within Christianity has everything 100% correct, so we better pick the right one or we're in trouble. I like how C.S. Lewis described it - a hall with many rooms. You have to find the room that makes the most sense to you, but really, we're all in the same building. Anyway, my point is, if left to my own devices (as in, if my husband didn't care either way), I'd probably happily go on attending Catholic church and raise my children that way, as long as we did it as a family.

My husband, however, does care. He grew up with some random influences when it came to religion, but wasn't raised in a church-going home. He's not so sure about the whole Catholic thing. He doesn't think there's anything wrong with the Church, necessarily, just not sure that it would be the right place for him. I get that, and I know it isn't all about me, but it puts us at sort of an impasse. Especially because he doesn't have any better alternatives. It isn't like he grew up Presbyterian and I grew up Catholic, so we'll go his way and call it good. He doesn't know what he "is" in terms of a Christian label. He knows he's a believer, which is a good start. But we've been sort of drifting along for what feels like forever, not sure where we belong.

The problem with that is we have kids now and we need to teach them something. Sure, we pray with them and talk about God and read them kid-versions of Bible stories. But I think we're really doing them a disservice by not attending church regularly. Granted, attending church with our boys is really hard and it's actually hard to imagine trying to contain G for an hour or so while a church service of any kind goes on. I think one of us would spend more of our time chasing after him (he's only crawling, but man is he fast) than listening to anything that was going on. But still. I have a strong compulsion right now to figure this thing out once and for all and finally commit to a church that will work for both of us.

The thing is though, I don't know anything about church shopping. When you're Catholic, you generally just go to the closest Catholic Church. You might try out two, if there are a couple in your area, and decide which one "feels" right, but it's not something that requires a whole lot of research. Catholic churches are what they are. You can walk into any Catholic church in the entire world and they'll be doing basically the same thing as every other Catholic church. That freaks some people out; it's a great comfort to others. It also means that, if we decide not to be Catholic as a family, I have no idea where to start.

I've been researching a bit about other Christian denominations, just to get an idea of what the differences are, both from each other and from Catholicism. It's utterly overwhelming. You have various Protestant branches, evangelicals, non-denominational churches and everything in between. Some groups have more structure, in that there is an established doctrine and if not a heirarchy as complex as the Catholic church, at least something in place that holds together what the church teaches. Others are much more fly by the seat; they sort of make up their own thing and it can vary from church to church.

I'm trying to sort through it all to get at least an idea of what the different branches teach/believe. There are differences in the teachings on salvation, on what practices are important/not important/bad/good/etc., on the use of decor, of sacraments, of music... I guess when I started looking, I thought I'd read about a church and think, "Ok, this one sounds reasonable, I can see myself going to a church like this." But with so much variation and lack of structure amongst many churches, it's hard to figure it all out. Short of visiting pastors at all my local area churches and asking, "So what do you believe at this church?" I'm not sure how to make sense of it all.

I guess it's the Catholic in me that wants to know, "What does this church teach?" Because, well, that information exists for the Catholic Church. I'm not used to the idea that an individual church could have such free reign to interpret scripture as they see fit, but some churches do just that. When I walk into any given church, I'm just not sure what I'm going to get. How do you know if the pastor of the church has any credibility; how do you figure out if it's a really fundamentalist group, or a more progressive one?

In our search for answers, my husband and I are planning to attend RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) "classes" (and I put that in quotes because the word class is too formal, but I'm not sure what else to call it) through the local Catholic Church. He's skeptical. I don't have a strong enough background in the church of my upbringing to answer his questions, nor give him compelling enough reasons for why our family should attend church there. Quite honestly, I'm not sure if my desire to remain Catholic will hold up under real scrutiny. And that's fine. The good thing about this whole process is that it's making me take a hard look at what I really believe in and learn about the church that our family will eventually be a part of, whatever church that may be. I certainly won't be going into it blindly, or simply because I was brought up that way. But this isn't an easy thing to tackle, especially when my husband is a bit defensive about the whole topic (and that's a completely different post in it's own right); it's made having rational discussions a little hard, but we're working on it.

In the meantime, I'm left feeling a little like I'm in a rowboat with no oars. There's certainly the part of me that wishes he didn't care so much and we could just go to church somewhere and call it good. But nothing is ever that easy with my husband, especially large issues like this. And we are talking about matters of the soul here - that's kind of a biggie.

My advice to anyone who might happen across this post who is single - figure out the church thing before you get married. If you're of the same religious denomination, awesome. If not, decide where you'll go. Don't let it sit for almost a decade.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Finding a church is by far one of the hardest things to do.
You could always just church shop. Until you find something you are comfortable with. It may take a while but it is worth it to find somewhere that you feel you can learn from and somewhere that you agree with the teachings.
Good luck!