My first church home, twenty miles north-west of Baltimore, was a large evangelical congregation that met in a public school auditorium. It was there that I met Jesus, His followers, and His call to prayer. I was nineteen, played drums in the socially conscious indie-punk band “The Soma Solution”, wore an orange Mohawk, and smoked a pack of Camel Lights every day. Even with my left-of-center roots, the idea of God had never seemed absurd to me, but Jesus had been different matter and the Church was something I wanted nothing to do with.
It only took a few months for me to understand why. After I started attending church, people stopped taking my phone calls. The youth group that had seemed so inviting, barred me. The morning Bible study for teenagers asked me not to come back. It was my age – too old for teenagers, too young for adults. The church had a void and offered me nothing. I was accountable to no one and felt abandoned in my immature faith. I felt abandoned not just by the church, but by the people I had come to depend on.
I was left church hopping for nearly a year, moving constantly from one congregation to another. I eventually turned up at a Southern Baptist church plant north of Baltimore and stayed for years. The church was young and had young pastors. It seemed to me that no one had yet hit the thirty year old mark. And the congregation felt like home for a while. However, when I got married and had kids and did all the things young parents tend to do, suddenly the church didn’t meet our needs anymore. Heck, even the people didn’t meet our needs anymore. In three short years, I had grown up and the church hadn’t. We tried to address it to leadership, and leadership failed to address the problem. My wife and I felt abandoned – not just abandoned by the church, but by the people we had come to depend on.
My wife and I began to church shop. Everywhere we went, we began to see a faith that despite theological differences, was all too much the same. Worship services were the same everywhere, leadership was clumsy at best, and Children’s ministries taught the same dozen stories over and over. We were asked to leave one church, found a cult at another, and experienced more than our fair share of horrible worship music. But nothing seemed different. All around us were people waiting to fail our expectations of them. I had called a “Church Hiatus” for the family – enough was enough – and wanted to stop the whole messy business of church for a while. My wife was a little more stubborn (okay, A LOT more stubborn) and refused to give in. My family and I felt abandoned. Not just abandoned by the church, but by The Church.
Eventually we wound up at North Baltimore Mennonite Church. The sermon was okay but what really sold us was the chocolate. They stopped by the house and brought us chocolate. Seriously – that is what sold us on a second visit. The second sermon was solid, but going back to singing hymns after years of modern praise music was difficult to get accustomed to. The people seemed genuinely friendly, and when I lost my father a year later, numerous members of the church came to his viewings and funeral bearing with them all sorts of baked goods and flowers. The church wasn’t perfect, people waited in the wings to fail me. My expectations of their theology, organizational skills, musical accomplishments, Biblical understanding, and political allegiances continued to frustrate me. It was their kindness, willingness to listen, and the congregation’s closeness that ultimately won me over.
It’s been a year since I left Baltimore for Syracuse, New York. Another year of church hopping, church shopping and failed expectations, I still stay in touch with many people from NBMC. Since then they’ve gained new members, lost old ones, and installed a new pastor. I returned to Baltimore last week for a short visit. I walked in those tall church doors, said “hello” to old church friends, smelled that unique church smell, and spent some time with the teenagers. I felt like I hadn’t been gone a day. The new pastor offered his hand and said, “Welcome Home.” Welcome home, indeed. Ω
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