Jun 2, 2008

Church Hunting--Fourth Time's a Charm...

Yesterday we ventured up to Santa Maria for church. I had resisted leaving Lompoc city limits for church, since I really dislike having to drive more than 15 minutes to church--too easy to use the drive as an excuse to stay home. But we'd seen a church in passing that looked interesting, if nothing else. It was situated in an old storefront (or some sort of pre-existing, non-church building), with its name displayed prominently in the front, and more or less graffiti'd in the upper corner of a part of the building which looked like a warehouse (I never did find out what's in that part of the building, come to think of it--nothing we saw indoors looked at all warehouse-y). At first, when I saw it out of the corner of my eye I thought "Oh man, can't people at least respect a church and leave it alone with the graffiti," but then I looked closer and realized it was put there on purpose. Only then did I contemplate the unlikelihood that taggers would go to the trouble to access the top corner of a building. I'm smart that way.

Having seen the church from the outside, we looked it up online and thought "This church is either right up our alley or totally lame." It looked promising enough that we were leaning toward the former, though, so we decided to give it a shot.

I've always thought of myself as fairly traditional when it comes to a lot of things, but you know what I realized? I can tolerate and even appreciate more traditional church settings, but when it comes to my own church I really prefer the non-churchy feel. I've always known I like casual, but doggone it if I'm not almost Emergent in my church-atmosphere preferences. Take that with a grain of salt though, because I'm still figuring out exactly what Emergent means. I don't like different merely for different's sake, and I don't like entertaining the congregation in order to fill the seats as a goal. I do like wearing jeans and not getting any guff about it, and I don't like having to revert to my Christianese and code-words (even better if people'll tell me to knock it off when I do it without realizing), and I really, really enjoy rowdy, rock-y music. Don't get me wrong, I like hymns and quiet songs too, and even many of the traditional stand-bys you can hear pretty much anywhere. I'm a drummer though, so there's gotta be some livelies in there. And it has to be quality music. I'll take well done hymns over fast crap any day. And there don't have to be drums in every song either...a time & place for everything. And I like hearing messages about Jesus and God, rather than motivational/how-to lectures on how I can try harder and get better results (tried that already; it doesn't work).

Oh, and something else I found, which I thought was a bit odd of me. I'm not into tattoos or piercings beyond my ears, but when I see that a certain percentage of the congregation has visible or even prominent tattoos, it puts me at ease. None of this "well you have tattoos but we'll let you in anyway." More like "Oh, you have tattoos? We didn't even notice. You should talk to so-and-so, (s)he's really into the body art." That's probably weird on my part, but whatever.

And don't even get me started about the pastors. I like to think I'm flexible when it comes to personality and speaking style, but (s)he must have a normal-person vibe and a willingness to say "this is what I struggle with right now," as opposed to "I used to struggle, but now I don't because I'm fixed now. Completely. And you can be like me someday if you do this and that!" Bonus points for occasional snarkiness and/or an extensive knowledge of silly camp songs.

Anyway, I'm sure I've blogged about this sort of thing before, but every time I church hunt it gets dragged out again, and I end up re-evaluating to see what I still feel the same about, what's changed, and whatnot.

SO--Element Christian Church. Yep, I liked it so much I'm revealing the name. Here's a link, even.

I tried to give a quick rundown but it just can't be done. So I'll just give my personal highlights.

--When we were greeted at the front, we asked where the nursery was. We were shown to the nursery and told, "you can take your son in now, or you can keep him with you for the first few songs, or you can keep him with you the whole time." Which I haven't done since he was about 3 weeks old, but I get put off by anything other than a full welcoming of kids into the service. If they are disruptive, a parent should absolutely take them out, but even though I'm pretty sure the intention is good I just have trouble with "children are expected to go to the provided programs," and other such phrases. Too close to a rule for my tastes, and I'll decide where I want my kid to spend his church time, thanks, and if you don't let them in now, what's going to make them want to come to big-church when they're older?

We provided the required contact info, and dropped him off then since he was quite content to play with the nice ladies and cool toys. Actually he cried some, but it was also right around naptime, so that's that. Main point: my kid was welcome anywhere I was, and I appreciated it.

--The music was along the lines of what we did at our church in Mass. Band, vocals, blah blah blah. A matter of taste; that's all. And there was a chick guitarist who was really good. Which again is not a make or break thing. It was just really, really cool. It was good music. And solid music. No fluffy "you are the clouds" stuff that is hovering around out in the world of contemporary Christian music. And singable by the masses, which worship leaders can forget to consider sometimes. Out of the 5 songs or so, I was familiar with 3-4 of them, so that was nice

--I felt welcomed, yet not stalked. "Oh look, visitors! Quick, everyone converge on them!" Nothing like that. No connect flaps to eschew, although we provided all of our contact info to the nursery, "in case there's an earthquake," which may well be their method of information gathering. Come on, earthquake? What kind of lame excuse--oh wait. That's not a bad idea. So dual purposes--protect my kid, have the ability to recruit me for potluck duty. Fair enough.

--I really liked the message. I even took notes, and I never take notes. It helped that the topic was on "straining gnats to swallow camels," which I've been reading and contemplating about lately. The pastor was oh-so-casual in his jeans and lightweight sweater. I couldn't have picked him out of a crowd, except for the wireless mic clipped to his shirt. My only complaint was that he came across as a little disjointed in his speaking. What he had to say was fantastic; he could've done it with fewer rabbit trails, that's all. And he was too punny. Funny = good. Too punny = trying too hard.

--They did communion. I like when churches do communion more than once a quarter or once a month, even. They had several communion stations about the room, and during the communion song people got up and helped themselves. And they had wine and grape juice, which I've never encountered but thought was kind of cool.

Here's the thing though. For all the puns, & rabbit trails, and a smattering of Greek thrown in, and all the other externals I noticed, the pastor said some key things I really liked:

  • Worship is more about what happens outside of the church than inside it.
  • As Christians we take God's grace & hope, and give it to others.
  • Scripture is not about religion; it is about becoming who God made us to be.

And he backed all of that up with talk about the various ministries they are forming or getting involved in within the community (and abroad). There was a prominent "we're all in this together and everyone has something to contribute" feel there. I liked that.

See? Good stuff there!

Afterward we hung around for a little bit--mostly to let His Highness run off some steam and endear himself to everyone he met--and then we headed home. I think the Cat Daddy agreed that this is by far our favorite. Whatever it is we were missing at the other three places...I think we might have found here. And I think the difference is the churchiness. The Foursquare and Calvary churches, in my opinion, had an awkwardness about them, almost as if each wasn't quite comfortable in its own identity as a church. Even the Nazarene church, which was a lot more comfortable and friendly, and had halfway decent music...none was a bad church, but they were all still churchy church to some degree.

Tragically, for all my excitement and gushing, I don't see us plugging in and immersing ourselves in the Element community. We like it enough that I'm sure we'll go back, but the reality of our short tenure is staring us in the face. We are now past the halfway point, and one major focus in the next two and a half months will be getting from Lompoc to Cheyenne, and all the logistics involved with that. Bummer.

It's still encouraging though. The mere fact of Element's existence gives me hope for the hunt for church in WY. If I can figure out the pastor's name I might even ask about Element's story, and if he knows anything about Wyoming and/or churches there. You never know...


Miranda said...

I am so glad that you visit my blog and comment!!! It makes my day.

Visiting a new church is always so hard. I mean, I have grown up at Open Door, but I do like to get out and visit friends' churches, just to get another experience. But I always feel so "on my guard" and judgmental about everything in the church... the sermon was too legalistic, the music wasn't loud enough, the communion bread was those wafer things instead of safeway french bread... you know. Things like that get to me.

I will be praying for your "church search" :)

RichardB said...

How 'bout we just go to Element Church in Wyoming?


DramaMama said...

Well, if we ever move out to Calie, we'll make sure we live near Element. No searching needed. It sounds like you found it. Thanks for looking. :)

TulipGirl said...

So good to find a church home. . . even if it is a temporary one. (Maybe, especially when we are temporary situations?)