On leaving the church we loved…

Little milestones remind me of our old church. Right now, it’s Vacation Bible School. Summer brings back memories of countless hours spent painting decorations with other VBS volunteers. I think of the kids I met each summer and the kids I worked with year after year. The smell of goldfish in dixie cups gets me every time.

I remember watching my daughter as a three-year-old during her first VBS performance and thinking — she is going to grow up with these friends. One day these same toddlers will be in youth group together. They will go on mission trips and beach retreats together. Our families are going to do life together.

We met those families as young couples, all newlyweds in our late 20s and early 30s. Those families did weekly Bible studies with us, prayed with us through infertility, stocked our freezer after the birth of our daughter and then our son, vacationed with us, and comforted us after the death of a parent. Never in my life had I felt so part of a community as I did with our church. We knew we were blessed to have found a church home that perfectly blended our views of theology with deep-rooted friendships.

And then we left. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions of our lives – and honestly – not something I really wanted to do. The feeling can only be described as a breakup, which involved a lot of soul-seeking, confusion, and heartache.

Long-distance relationship

The truth is that when we moved 20 miles farther from our church, our involvement became less and less. While we continued to attend every Sunday, the thought of sitting in an hour of traffic with two kids kept me from volunteering for special events or from meeting up with church friends on a whim. Logistically, it just wasn’t working.

Then another thought struck: my kids wouldn’t go to the same school as their church friends. As a youth, I needed my church friends nearby to grow with in my faith and to hold me accountable when I succumbed temptations. I wanted that for my kids.

So we started church shopping, which quite honestly, was a painful process. That church was too big. That one was too small. The worship music was too loud or too traditional. I didn’t like the pastor’s hair. We could find any number of reasons not to like a church. No church could perfectly fit the one we were leaving.

Of course, our church too had flaws – all churches do. But the love we had for our community overshadowed any grievances.

Finding love again

So we prayed. We prayed for guidance in finding a new church home. And after several months of searching, we found one. On the outside, it is nothing like our former church. It is much larger, more contemporary . . . and Baptist.

But on the inside, there is a community that loves and supports one another, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

When I drafted an e-mail to our old church friends, explaining our reason for leaving, I realized we wouldn’t “do life together” as I once had thought. But those friends did, however, leave a significant imprint on my life and faith forever. They were there when God wanted them to be.

Can your heart belong to two churches at the same time? Yes. I will always love our old church – we have a history together. At the same time, I am growing to love my new church.

And just recently, we began preparing for Vacation Bible School. I am almost certain they will serve goldfish in dixie cups too.

One Response to On leaving the church we loved…

  1. Jim Hudson August 10, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    The story about raising children in a community church makes sense. My wife and I were members of Mission Bend Methodist Church for 14 years when we decided to move 15 miles away in Katy. I wanted to stay with the church but my wife told me we needed to raise our daughters in a church family near home. It worked out very well because their peer group and friends were comprised of many of the children they knew in Sunday school.

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