Church Hopping: Update

Now that soccer season has arrived, the Sunday schedule gets a little hectic. Last week we skipped church; this week we’re heading back to house church. Samantha and I have been working on a few things for Good Shepherd Sunday. I taught her a fun little song I learned in InterVarsity. (Tom Fisher led worship, and he liked to sing the occasional youth group/kid’s song.)

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

Pray the Lord my soul to keep (Baa! Baa!)

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

I don’t wanna be a pharisee

Cause their not fair, ya see

I don’t wanna be a pharisee

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

I don’t wanna be a hypocrite

Cause their not hip with it

I don’t wanna be a hypocrite

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

I don’t wanna be a sadducee

Cause their so sad, ya see

I don’t wanna be a sadducee

I just wanna be a sheep (Baa! Baa!)

Yesterday evening we were doing a whole sheep/shepherd show in the living room, singing the song, pretending to be sheep, reading the sheep stories from this week’s Lectionary.

Our goal of finding some sort of church home is probably achieved to the extent it can be for the next several months. House church seems to be falling to fortnight rhythm. We’ll try to hit a Sunday morning service if things allow. Of course, all this gets shuffled again in about six weeks when the baby comes.

Church Hopping: Week 10: House Church

This past Sunday I attended church twice. In the morning, Jacob and I went back to Aley UMC for Palm Sunday. (Kerri and Samantha were attending a "Bunny Brunch.") Again, I enjoyed it, though I was hoping the message would be a little more timely. Instead the pastor continued his series on prayer. Still, it was fun to hear the kids singing. I don’t think there are any opera protoges in the group, (My grandfather used to say about me, "Caruso he ain’t.") but they gave it their all and appeared to enjoy it. The adults certainly did.

In the evening we finally made it to a new house church that some friends of ours are starting. We had tried once before, but sick kids kept us home. As you might expect it was fairly simple. Six families in all: 10 adults and 7 kids. Pizza and salad; singing; and a conversation around the Kingdom of God. It was a little awkward, since most of us don’t know each other real well yet.

Nevertheless, I loved it. I enjoyed the fact that most of us had shakers, so that we could join in the music. Few of us did – I felt horribly nervous, since my rhythm is questionable at best – but the option to participate a little more was nice, a step toward what I want. The conversation was good also, even though it, too, was full of awkward silences. We seemed to hone in on the fact that the Kingdom always seems to run counter to expectations. It wasn’t what the religious authorities expected. It wasn’t what the disciples expected. It still isn’t exactly what we expect. We have an almost natural tendency to co-opt the Kingdom, assigning values and motives that aren’t natural to it. Fortunately, Jesus is patient and willing to correct our image of the Kingdom as often as is necessary.

Ten weeks, ten churches (I think.) I think the hopping is drawing to a close, and I’ll post some thoughts in a bit.

Church Hopping: Week 9: Aley UMC

Yesterday we went to Aley UMC, visiting with a nurse practicioner from my wife’s OB practice. Similar to Hillside, this was a place that we enjoyed almost in spite of itself. A few bullet points or appreciation:

  • The first use of the liturgical calander we have seen, something I have longed for.
  • I liked the rambling feel to the building: Stairs and hallways and rooms scattered everywhere.
  • It had a real "Tom Fisher" vibe to it. (This comment doesn’t have to make sense to you.) I’m sure part of this is because it was UMC, but there was more to it than just that.
  • Their youth group is running the Labrynth Prayer Path (from Group, I think) for the second year this coming Saturday. Kerri & I signed up.
  • We got a phone call that evening to say, "Thanks for visiting; Hope you enjoyed yourself, and hope to see you again."

Two other, more general realizations occured on Sunday. First, I can accept that Samantha really isn’t going to be much help. I was hoping she would be able to give some sort of meaningful input about the churches we visit. No such luck. She’s all about her buddies. The actual church gets lost behind how many of her existing friends are with her.

Second, Kerri and I still can’t nail down what we’re looking for. The closest I can describe it is Apex meets Aley UMC. In so many ways these two churches couldn’t be more unlike one another, but there are elements of each we really want that aren’t found at the other… much less at the other churches we’ve visited.

Church Hopping: Week 8: Apex Community Church (Part 2)

We went back to Apex a couple Sunday’s ago, and this time we actually made it into the grown up service ;)

In short, we liked it.

A lot.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Rather than building a new warehouse anctuary, they moved into an existing building previously occupied by a baptist church. I like the recycling.
  • The first song was written by a member of the congregation. The second was a hundred year old hymn. Furthermore, four verses of the hymn were sung, and none were of the "Praise God (ad nausuem)" variety, such as gets tacked into Amazing Grace so often.
  • The preacher had an edge to his sense of humor that I’m pretty suer would draw gasps from some other churches in the area.
  • In front of the old baptismal were a dozen or so canvases with a variety of art painted, I suspect, by members of the congregation.

Apex has a place on our short list.

Church Hopping: Week 7: Apex Community Church

Brief update this week. On Sunday we went to the Apex Community Church. After surviving the crush of people between services, we found out the bad news: They had nothing for children Samantha’s age this week. It seems they were between semesters or something. OK, so we figure we’ll just bring her in with us. Instead, we get the good news: They have a family service, called Kids Town, that should be right up her alley. So we do that, and it was good. Samantha was a bit moody for reasons unrelated to church, but the Kids Town service was fun: high energy, singing and dancing, skits, etc. Samantha is at the bottom edge of the targeted age group (grade schoolers), but it was still something she could enjoy.

Don’t know what the main service is like, but we’ll go back at least one more time to check it out.

Church Hopping: Week 6: Hillside Chapel

We skipped this last week on account of illness, so I have an opportunity to catch up on the previous visit. We popped into HIllside Chapel, a Christian & Missianary Alliance church, for a couple reasons. First, our friend, Dara, has visited a couple times. Second, Dara is good friends with Terry who works with the high schoolers at Hillside. When Dara told Terry about Map Room, the monthly creative worship event put on by Lily and her fellow UC campus ministers, Terry thought it would be perfect for her students. She asked Dara for help, and Dara kindly passed the buck to me. Sunday was an opportunity for Terry and me to meet.

(There are no concrete plans at the moment, but I’ll post regularly as details emerge.)

Back to Hillside. I’ve struggled with what to say. My initial reaction was, "I enjoyed i," (At least is wasn’t "nice.") but I’ve had trouble pinpointing why. At lunch Dara wasn’t satisfied with my casual answer either, so she pressed me for more. This is what I emailed her (Edits are for confidence and relevance):

I’ll be as picky as I can for you:

The tempo needed to be picked up on a couple songs, the keyboard turned down, the electric guitar turned up, and the choir let loose. The dress code could be a little more relaxed as well. The sermon was clearly directed to insiders. [Someone who's] not familiar with the history and culture of the New Testament [might get lost.] Kerri and I, who are more familiar, followed along just fine. Mike’s passion for scripture was clear, but I think his application could have been better. (Caveat: My mind wanders a bit, because I’m trying to take everything in and "evaluate." I’m finding it a little hard to let go and just be present. Mike’s application could have been just fine – Kerri enjoyed the message – and I might have missed it.)

Those things said, I enjoyed it. I respect you too much to be dishonestly polite.

I appreciate the generational span present at Hillside. I appreciate the tension between the past and the future, between tradition and innovation. I appreciate the willingness to experiment. I appreciate their willingness to include me, even thought I’m quite sure they
realize I’m outside their orthodoxy (and likely growing more so). I appreciate Mike’s passion and personality. I appreciate the fact I wasn’t sitting in a warehouse. Notice that all of my "complaints" above are also aspects of things I appreciate. I have a greater sense of genuine spiritual journey at Hillside than I do with some of the others I’ve visited, which feel very canned and commercial.

…I’m excited for the opportunity to work with HIllside and Terry. One of my thoughts coming out of Map Room was "Just Do It." It’s time to get over Harvest and get working. Well, here’s someone else who wants me to "Just Do It." Coincidence, right?

I mentioned in a follow up email that I enjoyed Hillside almost in spite of itself, if that makes any sense. I don’t think we’ll call Hillside home for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to working with them.

Church Hopping: Week 5

One month in, and it was time to sleep in. Super Bowl Sunday provided as good an excuse as any, so we hit a Saturday evening service at SouthBrook Christian Church, a growing congregation south of town. They currently hold five SRO services a weekend, and are in the process of renovating at a new campus a few miles away. Their plans are lofty (extravagant?) as evidenced by the $10 million building campaign. As has become my habit, a few comments:

Shortly after turning off the interstate we began following a new Cadallac sports sedan. Somehow I knew we’d be following this pricey car all the way to Southbrook, and I wasn’t wrong. While filtering past the cones and parking attendants (Check!) I tried to keep an open mind about yet another affluent suburban church.

One of the smiling greeters (Check!) was a black man, and my hopes for diversity rose. Alas, I think he, Kerri, and my sister-in-law were the only non-white people among the 600 or so assembled.

The children’s wing was well organized. The caregivers actually compared the numbers on both Jacob’s name-tag and my “claim check,” though the security felt like overkill in this nice, affluent, church. Jacob had a blast, and Samantha did pretty well considering this was the first week she didn’t have any of her buddies with her.

The music was, as expected, good. The sermon was, as expected, predictable. (There was a turn of phrase used at one point that I know I’ve heard or read elsewhere.) The overall experience was, you guessed it, nice.

My only complaint is that the room was packed, bordering on claustrophobic. The chairs were a standard size and every one was full. Other places we have visited use an wide stacking chair, and the extra 6“ of personal space make a big difference. Plans to better accommodate the crowd are in action, but I think I’ll postpone another visit until the new campus is opened.

A few other former Harvesters have visited. Their observation is that Southbrook is very much what Harvest was trying to be. This commentary reinforces my sense that Harvest was in many ways no longer the church I was looking for. I don’t say this as a criticism or condemnation of Harvest. Rather, it is further evidence of the changes I underwent since Harvest began.

One last thought: I surfed around the Southbrook website earlier in the week, paying a fair amount of attention to their campus development plan. On Saturday, before visiting, I read Sally Morgenthaler’s latest Preaching Plus article, for the time being reprinted at Sacramentis. The criticism of ”destination churches“ was fresh in my mind as we headed out. It also fueled some fruitful conversation between Kerri and I afterward.

Sunday morning the kids and I got up at 10:30, and I made pancakes.

Church Hopping: Week 4A & 4B

I visited a couple places the last weekend in February. On Saturday, I went to afternoon mass at St. Anthony’s, our local Catholic church. The building, inside and out, is gorgeous. It’s the kind of place I could sit for hours: Exposed wood beams, high vaulted ceilings, ornate reliefs. The front was adorned with an enormous mural of the risen Jesus surrounded by angels, apostles, saints of old, and the faithful of today. A side section of the main hall had a statue devoted to the Virgin Mary, and all around the hall hung paintings marking out the 14 stations of the cross. Tall, sweeping stained glass windows portrayed the apostles on one side and saints of old on the other.

The mass itself was good. The priest was by no means a polished orator, but the five-minute homily is hardly central to the proceedings. I was able to follow along well enough, standing, kneeling, etc. at the appropriate times. Real wine in the Eucharist was a treat; it really added something tangible to the experience for me.

While I will probably visit again, Kerri has enough reservations about Catholicism that I doubt we’ll be attending regularly.

Sunday morning, and the family headed out to the Dayton Vineyard. I’ll give you three guesses what I’m gonna say about it, and the first two don’t count.

It was nice. OK, I’ll elaborate: It was nice… and big. Having been a church planter and having read a number of the books on how to do it “right,” I’m finding it hard not to be cynical.

Stewards directing traffic in the parking lot? Check

Lots of smiling “hellos” as you enter the building? Check

End worship on an upbeat song? Check

Fill in the blank sermon notes full of easy, practical steps to a better life? Check

Opportunity to respond at the end of the service? Check

I am trying not to be disparaging – even if my tone betrays me. None of this is particularly bad. It was, if anything, predictable. Predictability has a certain merit.

So, four weeks down and five churches visited. Of those visited Beavercreek Christian is still at the top of the my list. Did I mention how much I love Ben?

Church Hopping: Week 2 & 3

It’s a bit late, but here’s the update.

A week ago Sunday we visited Beavercreek Christian Church. My good friend, Ben, was recently hired on as “Minister of Celebration and Service.” I think that’s his official title. The church is just shy of a score old and fair sized, 300-600 in two Sunday morning services.

How was it? Well, nice.

I’m really starting to hate that word.

It was, like so many churches, a variation on the theme. Big or small; new or old; rented space, historic building or brand new gymnasium – it doesn’t matter too much. They’re all fundamentally similar. (Hell, even Harvest was just one more iteration in a number of ways.) I imply nothing negative. These churches are all, watch for it, nice. I liked my morning at BCC. Here are a couple reasons why:

I felt good about my kids. BCC was well organized and well staffed. Having a Monday thru Friday pre-school gives them experience that is well used on Sunday morning. The servants were all cheerful. Also, they were large enough to have separate areas for toddlers, like Jacob, and pre-schoolers, like Samantha. As a parent, I felt better knowing my kids were well cared for.

Second, I love Ben.

(Extended Parenthetical: I’m not going to beat around the bush. There aren’t to my knowledge very many in my local circle who check out my blog, (If there are they should leave a comment a little more often – hint, hint.) so I feel safe gushing about Ben. After all, if a mother shows naked baby pictures in the forest (I’m guaranteed to get a couple random google hits.) and there isn’t a girlfriend around to see them, does anyone get embarrassed?)

Where was I? Oh yeah. I love Ben. I love to hear him sing. I love to hear him play guitar. I could attend BCC for no reason other than to hear him. Last time… this post: I love Ben.

Finally, unlike Week #1, I didn’t have that feeling of surrender. Even though BCC was in so many ways the same, for some reason I still felt like I would have the space to explore and experiment. I’m sure some of that has to do with Ben’s presence on their staff.


Last week brought us to The Bridge, an eighteen month old plant in Fairborn. Again, the word that comes to mind is nice. I appreciated the fact that this one felt more blue collar than white collar, though it’s style was less to my liking. Style can’t help but be a factor, though hopefully a secondary one.

Regardless, I can rule it out because I didn’t feel great about my kids. Children remain with their parents during singing. Possible if the session is brief. There’s was nearly an hour, more when you include the special song, offering, and community prayer. Frankly, my kids can’t sit in a pew and cooperate for that long; and I don’t want them to.

So, while I don’t have anything negative to say, I can say that it’s not the place for us.

If I had to put down roots today, I’d pick BCC. I don’t, however, have to pick today. We may very well wind up back at BCC in some capacity. (Have I mentioned that I love Ben?) Until then, we have several other places we want to hop over to including:

Westminster Presbyterian

St. Anthony’s

A house church start up

Church Hopping – Week 1

Today we began the process of searching for a new church. Kerri and I were more than content to put it off one more week, but Samantha insisted. (Jacob didn’t particularly care, so long as he was given adequate breakfast. The boy eats like you wouldn’t believe!)

We visited GracePoint Church, a plant in its third or fourth year. A friend of ours from Harvest knows the pastor from her youth group days. They currently meet at a community recreation center, setting up and tearing down each week. I remember those days without fondness.

What was it like? In a word, it was nice. It was much like our Harvest gatherings (and countless others, I’m sure): gathering song, welcome, three choruses, message, communion, closing. Pleasant enough. No surprises. The pastor seems a genuine sort at first impression. The congregation were cheery and, well, nice. It didn’t offend; neither did it grab out hearts. Samantha enjoyed herself, and is ready to settle in. (She’s savvy enough to get that our old church is gone, and she’s none too happy about it.)

While still giving them the benefit of all doubts, and acknowledging my very limited exposure, this thought went thru my mind: Here I would either settle in and give up much of what God had done in my life over the last few years, or I would be a cantankerous thorn in their side, asking questions and making suggestions they’d rather I didn’t. I have no real substance on which to base this thought, yet it came. I’m not dead set against being a pain in the ass, nor would I chase away a third alternative. Regardless, we’ll hop around to several others before settling in… provided Samantha lets us.

Next week: Beavercreek Christian Church, where my dear friend Ben was recently hired. I attended his ordination ceremony the same day Harvest held its last gathering.