My experience in Church in the past several years has been mixed. I went to Solomon's Porch for four years in Minnesota, and I miss it terribly today. It was a different experience, far different than any church I've ever been. It was a place where I felt comfortable, because I was able to be myself and I was accepted. It was one of the few places in my life where no one really asked me why I don't talk more or make constant comments about how quiet I am. You'd be surprised how many places you find people who are just plain leery of people who are quiet. They wonder what's wrong with you. Me, I'm just not a big fan of small talk. At Solomon's Porch, I felt like that was alright, even a good thing. I suppose I was more outgoing there than a lot of other places, because I liked the place from the get-go and I wanted to be involved. However it worked out, the place was a harbor to me, a place of openness and acceptance, and I went to church with anticipation. It was also a place where I was challenged. There were opportunities to get involved in helpful services, and it was a challenge to me to get off my butt and do something - something more than joining a small group or something "spiritual."
I also, for two years, went to a church called Emmaus Road, leading music for them every week. That was difficult for me, for several reasons. Mainly, I think, was the distance. The place was a 45 minute drive from where I lived, and getting involved in anything other than the music was more than I was willing to invest, due to the extra distance. It doesn't seem like much, but going somewhere that's that far away, in addition to work and other activities you're into, and doing so more than twice a week, is a little much. It made it difficult for me to feel a part of the community. I was asked a couple of times if ER was somewhere I would attend if I wasn't leading music (which I got paid a small wage to do). I still think I would have gone there if I lived closer, didn't already have Solomon's Porch, and could force myself to get up in the morning. And that's saying a lot, because before Solomon's Porch, there wasn't anywhere that I considered a home church for me (other than the one a grew up in, but that changed after I went to college). But it was also a difficult thing at Emmaus Road, because of all the expectations there. It seemed like we couldn't just be the people of God, and come together to share our lives together and live in community. There was always this sense I felt like we were trying to appease people, trying to get them to like us, so that they'd go to our church and we'd be successful. I mean there were some times that problems came up, issues that people had, where we just said - that's just plain too bad. But it just seemed to me like we were still looking for the right formula to get the job done. We had ideas about being a church where that wasn't the case, but when it came down to "how are we going to do this," we just went right back to the formula. By the end of my time there, I think I was liking it much better, and I felt much more connected to several of the people there (several families had left by that time and new ones had joined in, so that made a difference). But that's when I went to Africa, met Cassie and made plans to move to Utah.
Since coming to Salt Lake, I've had a hard time with Church. There's nothing here like Solomon's Porch. When I got here, Cassie was going to a church plant called E-Vin. It's a Vineyard church in town, and the pastor is Cassie's former youth pastor (I think). They were meeting in a hotel, one of those meeting rooms you can rent out, which meant that they would set up and take down before and after the Sunday service, and there wasn't a ton going on in the space. I visited a couple of times, but I was not impressed, and I missed SP so much, I don't think I could stomach anything else. We also had a lot of friends who went to another Vineyard church nearby, and we've gone to a few events there over the past couple years, but it's not a place I wanted to attend either. We also tried one other church that was downtown, and it seemed like it might be a good thing, but when we got there, neither one of us liked it all that much. It was too much a place where we could just get lost in the mix.
I don't like judging churches based on the teachings or the music, but it's really hard not to. I dont' know if I burned myself out on worship music in general, or what, but I just don't get into it. And as far as teachings go, I've heard all the basics before. When I hear sermon after sermon on how Jesus loves you, or anything like that, I just need to get out. I'm not one of those people who can just sit there and say "amen." Without a chance to engage with what we're talking about, it's usually just pointless for me. Like I said, I don't like judging churches on those things only, but I don't like sitting through them either. The biggest problem for me has been that element of involvment. I need to feel like I'm a part of things, like I'm doing something valuable. So for a while, I didn't go to church. Cassie and I went to a young adults Bible Study two or three times a month, and I slept in on Sunday mornings.
Cassie wasn't going to E-vin much after we got married, either. We were both keeping our eyes and ears open for something we really felt was right, but I didn't want to just go church "shopping," a term I abhor. Then we heard that E-vin was getting a place of its own, which I thought might show some promise. We started going there at least some of the time, and I tried to get involved in discussion if there was any. Finally, they got their new place, and after talking with the pastor and his wife, I was feeling pretty good about it, because they wanted it to be a place with a lot of creative expression and where things were done differently.
In some ways I was reminded of Emmaus Road. It was a church plant, just getting on its feet, hoping to flourish and wanting to do things differently, wanting to not be a normal church. There was that element of formula, but there was also the air of accomplishment. In short time they made great progress in remodeling the place, a former court. I went in to help a couple of times, but not as much as I wanted. Still, I thought to myself that here I might be able to get involved.
Some time passed, and we were in church on Sunday morning, and I was getting frustrated. I don't know if I could sit through another sermon or sing one more song. It felt so stale to me. I've heard it all before, sung it all before. I needed something to do, something valuable to contribute. I left the room and paced about. I left the building and walked along the sidewalk. I came back and tried to endure it. I left again and walked around. When I got back I told Cassie I wanted to start something, and we talked to the pastor about having a meeting about art. Thus was born the E-Vin Arts Group, which meets every Tuesday night. Right now we're planning to present art that we've been working on in a couple of Sundays from now. It's also one of the highlights of my week.
I don't know why I'm going through all this, other than to let people know that I'm really happy being involved in a church in a way that is vibrant and productive. And I guess if there are people around who are having a hard time with "church," whether it is finding a church or dealing with the one they have, it is important to get involved in some way that sparks your passion, and if there isn't anything like that, then start something. We can't just attend a church. That is why I think so many youth groups have such a stronger passion and sense of vibrant activity than their own churches, because they tend to be more activity oriented, they emphasize involvement, participation, and experience.
So that's what I have to say for now. It's been a good experience. There's no substitute for Solomon's Porch, but I feel like we have a place and a community to be a part of, and something to contribute.