Church: It's Been a Long Time, Old Friend...

I’ve been to church thrice in the last year. Once last September because I had high hopes about finding a church in my post-Colorado life that was liberal enough for me…I was disappointed. Once as a big group thing the day after a family wedding. Once with my Mom because it was her birthday.

I went to church last Sunday, for me, and I loved it. Now now ok, before any of you (who know me and my falling out with church) start cheering about how the prodigal son has found humility and returned to what is all objectively right and good, this is a different kind of church. It’s a church that actually exhibits what I have, for some time now (including the time I have been away from church), envisioned a church could be (as it relates to my personal theological struggles). I found this church through a series of blogs and websites associated with the Emergent Village, a movement that I have been following for several years now and truly love what they are doing. Anyway, I found this church not long after I moved to Chicago (fall ’07) and have meant to visit, but for some reason never got around to going until last weekend.

I must say that I am very weary of small church communities, or “house churches,” or whatever you’d like to call them, because throughout my experience with those who’ve fallen out of traditional church settings, I often see these communities form because people are tired of church programming or hierarchical leadership or doctrinal statements or maybe just the sheer volume of people in many churches. I fully respect this, and have been there myself at times. But often what I have envisioned when being around these communities is that the group would do something new, not on a functional, pragmatic, or communal level, but on a theological level. It never seems to be the case, though. It usually ends up being a different setting where the same evangelical theology is propagated. If this is you, please understand that I am not criticizing such communities for what they are, do, or believe (not in this post, anyway), I’m only illustrating how I find this to often be the case, when for a long time I personally have sought out something very different.

This is a church here in Chicago on the north edge of Wicker Park, a very artsy and mixed neighborhood. During the rest of the week the church space functions as an art gallery and hosts a number of community events, such as film showings, Yoga, and so on. It just so happened that the night I decided to finally go, they were having a “where we come from, where we’re headed” sort of night. The pastor had a slide show showing the beginnings of the church and how they got started, their goals and what they work toward and so on. I wish I could have gotten a print-out of the slide show because there were many things that I thought pretty great, but I lacked that always suspiciously absent pen-paper duo at the time. But here are some things that I do recall…and greatly admired about the church. You may find them interesting if you’re curious about where I’m at these days

The LGBT Community – working for gay rights and inclusion both in and outside of the church, subscribing to no such theology that excludes the LGBT community from the church, on an organizational, social, or theological level.

Social Justice, Sustainability, Building Community – pretty self explanatory, stuff I would hope even the most conservative of churches out there are already working toward.

Hospitality – Setting aside organizational duties and standards in favor of welcoming (that is, from the outside perspective) those in the surrounding community.

Understanding Faith and Theology as Dynamic – Seeing the Bible as sacred and full of wisdom, but also understanding that it must be examined in context, not sitting around in a circle and talking about what we feel like it means. Those of you that know me well know that I’ve been stressing this for years now.

Focus on This Life, not the Afterlife – Believing that what we do with our time here is more important to focus on than what becomes of us afterwards (something else that I’ve been stressing for years). Along with this, there isn’t a focus on evangelism, and to use the words of the pastor herself, the open door of this church is not part of a “bait and switch” scheme, either. It is a community that is rooted in Christian tradition, but is not working toward making everyone a Christian. From what I understood, there is at least one Buddhist and one atheist regularly involved in this community.

And in case you’re wondering, no, these are not copied from the church bulletin or website, I put these values into my own words as I recall them. Of course there is a bunch of other cool stuff, like the fact that they are a community of about thirty or so, they do jazz vespers, and they have a potluck dinner every Sunday after the spiritual gathering time; I was invited to stay and was very welcomed by everyone, even chatted with a couple folks for an hour or so afterwards.

The point of this post is twofold: 1) Trying, yet again, to get into the swing of blogging. I already know that it’s something I really enjoy and is a great way to get my thoughts out there and start some healthy dialogue. Or even if it’s really only just good for me to process thoughts in writing, whether or not others read them. 2) To let some of y’all know where I’m at these days. For a more specific version, look forward to an upcoming post of my current, yet ever-changing, statement of faith. It might surprise some of you out there whom I haven’t had any deep chats with in a few years. I’d like to do it NPR’s “This I Believe” style.

Oh, and I think I’ll be going to church again next week.

Check out Wicker Park Grace.


T.D. Newton said...

Hey, I'm really glad you're finding something you like. That's valuable and I know is pretty rare for you (har har). I wear my own "church" struggles on my sleeve so it's not necessary to make this comment about ME.

Also, I've been subscribed to your blog all along so I knew this post existed even before I got your email. You're a brilliant guy and we all miss having you around so we all look forward to more of your promised posts however [ir]regular they are.

Tony said...

Thanks man. I probably never told you this, but I always admired your openness and lack-of-giving-a-shit about what other people thought about your non-conforming position in our Christian-ish community in Colorado. Granted, maybe it's because you didn't have all the baggage of growing up in it or, in my sake, having my whole reason for moving to Colorado invested in it (4C's). In either case, being pretty far removed from having my social well being dependent on evangelical Christianity or some particular church's theology, I am learning to be more vocal (as mentioned in this post and the email I sent you about 15 minutes ago).

I must admit, it kinda feels good.

mike said...

hey Lt. sorry i haven't kept in touch. glad you might have found a spiritual home.

much love my friend

Micah D.L. said...

i really hope to read more things like this (and congrats on being "found" by your church/community!)... things are still pretty challenging around here as far as church goes. you were always sort of a compass for some of us (cough cough, todd and me) so beyond missing your friendship (which i hope is obvious), i know i for one miss your perspective.

Stratoz said...

I had 16 years away from the church before I went back... sounds like you picked a good night to return.

hope you got to a jazz vespers, I have been to some and love them.