Sunday, March 11, 2007

searching for common ground--first cut

About six months ago, Julie and I met with the elders at Bethany (the Evangelical church we'd been part of for most of our married life) to ask for prayer and guidance about our situation. On that particular occasion, the senior pastor recommended that I read Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell, which I commented on earlier. The point then, as when we had met with him about a year earlier, as when they sent us a letter immediately before I became a catechumen, was that perhaps we might find somewhere we could both be happy. Particularly, Rob Bell fits into a movement known as the emerging Church, which is pretty diverse in its expressions, but often includes more traditional elements borrowed from the ancient Church. I was pessimistic about the idea after reading Bell's book, and now that we've had a chance to visit a church that falls somewhere in this category, I'm not feeling much better about it.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a follow-up meeting with a couple of the elders about the letter, and one positive outcome was that both Julie and I realized we'd somehow jumped to the conclusion that the other one was not interested in trying to see if there might be some kind of church out there that would meet both our needs. Now that we know we're both open to it, we've begun taking some steps in that direction. It's hard to say where it will lead, if anywhere. We may find that the best we can do is go somewhere that neither one of us would like, in which case what we're doing now is probably a better option. We may learn something along the way--something about each other's unique expectations, something about what we really hold in common, or maybe just something about what alternatives really exist. A renewed perspective wouldn't necessarily be a bad outcome. Or we just might actually find something that works for both of us--perhaps as a permanent home, but perhaps also as a temporary stopping point along the road, where we can both find some degree of contentment as we prepare to look further together.

Of course, part of the problem now is, how do we actually go about finding something that's in between Bethany and Holy Cross? We had the suggestion of emerging churches, and particularly of Cedar Ridge Community Church, founded and until recently pastored by Brian McLaren, which happens to be down the road from Bethany. We've also spent some time talking with Rick Laribee, pastor of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, who himself was a Baptist pastor before he started exploring more traditional forms of Christianity. So that church is on the short list. Someone else suggested Missouri Synod Lutheran, which tends to be more conservative in its theology than some Lutheran denominations.

We know there are going to be some challenges. Neither of us is particularly comfortable with female clergy, and that's something we're going to run into in both Episcopal and emerging churches. We also tend to be pretty conservative on theology and ethics. Even if we find a particular local congregation that's OK on those points, will its denomination be more problematic (thinking here particularly about Episcopal)? And there's still the nagging suspicion (for me, at least) that whatever compromise we find is going to be better on the less important issues but not so good on the substantive ones. For instance, more liturgical worship without a solid grounding in traditional theology isn't going to do much for me. But we're trying to be open-minded and just see what's out there.

So, today we made our first visit. We started with Cedar Ridge. The people we talked to--a greeter who met us at the door, a woman who helped us with signing in our son (who ended up wanting to stay with us in the service anyway), a staff member who gave a brief intro to the church after the service--were friendly enough, but then it was also their job to be nice to visitors. The sermon was decent, but somewhat repetitive and rather long (not sure of the exact length, but the first hour consisted of one song, a brief welcome, and the sermon). The music was entertaining, but we both agreed that the instruments were so loud that they de-emphasized the singing and seemed to make it easier just to sit back and listen than to participate. The last part of the service was interesting, but seemed tacked-on. After the sermon, a different staff member came up and gave a brief explanation of what would come next. During some time of silence and (comparatively) quiet music, people could proceed to various locations throughout the room where they could take communion (self-administered), or pick up some handouts about the action items from the sermon, or light a candle, or pray quietly with some guidance for contemplation, or ask some designated persons to pray with them. Eventually, the singing resumed for about three more songs, and the service closed in a final prayer.

For the most part, I can see what they're trying to do. The general structure of the service follows the traditional flow of Scripture/preaching then communion. I appreciate that they take communion weekly, and I guess I prefer the idea of going forward for communion over passing trays around while everyone remains seated. On the other hand, it shifts communion more toward the individualistic end of the spectrum, which bothers me a bit. There's some advantage to having opportunities for personal devotion, like lighting candles and praying at various stations (vs. not having them at all, which is what I've seen in most Evangelical churches), but it lacks the natural expression and the blend of spontaneity with regularity and shared devotion that you get in Orthodox worship. And when you think about it, to throw in 15 min. of interactive worship at the very end, after an hour of rather non-interactive observation, seems a bit out of balance.

All in all, there may be a few surface-level gains (from my perspective) over our experience at Bethany, but neither of us was terribly impressed, and I don't think it would substantially change our current dynamic. I would still feel a need to involve myself with Orthodoxy, and all that would have changed is Julie would be uprooted from her church home and transplanted somewhere quite similar. There may be other emerging churches out there that do a better job of incorporating traditional elements, but for now I think we need to move on and look at something with more actual, handed-down tradition.


Benedict Seraphim said...


My wife and I have been in almost your exact setting. I could almost predict what was coming next as I read your post.

My wife was very opposed to Orthodoxy when I began to be serious about it, just about five years ago. It took more than a year to work through that--and the birth of our first child was, I thihk, an impetus toward that--to where we both went together to our present parish. And it has taken another three years plus (after a couple of false starts) for our family to enter the catechumenate.

Now you two are different than us, so this is not meant to indicate your road will be the same as ours, but I do want to say that patience, openness, and a whole bunch of loving will go a long way toward finding common ground.

Keep seeking, keep praying, and most of all, keep loving.

Trevor said...

Thanks so much for the encouraging words!

Trevor said...

I was talking with someone yesterday about our visit to Cedar Ridge, and he commented that if you visit there because you like Brian McLaren's writings, you'll be disappointed. I get his point.

Roland said...

I would suggest investigating the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. As you say, it is more conservative than the ELCA (but not as conservative as the Wisconsin Synod, from what I hear). I've heard there is a growing faction within the LCMS that is overtly Orthodox in theology, but they seem more content with their denomination than we Orthodox-tending Episcopalians.

If you want to investigate any of the conservative Anglican denominations, I might be able to help you navigate your way through the maze of options.

Trevor said...

Thanks for the offer--I might take you up on that!

Michael Krahn said...


I've just posted the first of a multi-part series on Rob's book "Velvet Elvis" and I'd love to have you join the discussion.

Join me in conversation at: