Church – a new chapter

September 6, 2006 by
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

This blog has been dead for some time.  Mainly, that was due to a lack of interest in blogging, and too much to do otherwise.  However, I have something new to talk about and I’ll do that here.

First, a little history.

When I was in high school, I was pretty religious.  I was a member of a Presbyterian PC(USA) church in Northern NJ.  When I was a high school junior, I was ordained as a deacon in that church.  That same year, I was a YAD (Youth Advisory Delegate) to the Synod of the Northeast meeting.  I then became the youth member of Synod Mission Council and the Synod Nominating Committee.  At the same time, I was involved in Camp Johnsonburg as a camper, CIT (Counselor in Training) and a full-time counselor.  I also went to the Youth Triennium during those years.

Right about the same time, I went to college at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ (the state U of NJ).  I started taking religion classes and computer science classes, intending one to be my major and the other to be my minor.  I was thinking that seminary could be in my future.

Then, a few things happened.  On campus, I got hooked up with an extremely conservative chapter (“you can’t be friends with Jews unless you’re trying to convert them”) of a conservative Christian campus organization.  That only lasted two months, ending after a cult-like weekend retreat.  After that, I experienced some disturbing events at Synod-level meetings involving racism and politicking in a church organization.  (NOTE:  I will not be going into those farther here.)

All of that led me to believe that church was a place where a small number of people in power used the structure to control the behavior of a large number of people.  This control was not particularly Godly, but rather of human origin with the accompanying pettiness.

I had already resigned my post as a deacon because of distance issues at college (it’s hard to serve at a worship service 50 miles away when you don’t have a car).  I resigned my Synod posts and essentially left the church.  I filled out my religion minor with eastern religion classes.

About a year later, I ran into an officer of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (now part of More Light Presbyterians).  They were looking for someone to serve as their liaison to Presbynet (a part of Ecunet – a discussion network for church issues).  I agreed with their cause, and began helping them for about 5-6 years as a supportive straight person.  This ended when again I ran into human politics and found myself being called homophobic due to my support of one strategy over another.  I turned my responsibilities over to another and left that service.  Thus ended my church career.

Fast forward about 10 years.  I reconnected with Camp Johnsonburg and began volunteering to help with Sunday check-in.  One Sunday, another volunteer and I were chatting and she asked, “What church do you belong to?”  I had no answer.  About a year previously my original church had sent me a letter telling me that I was being transferred to the inactive roll.

This started a spark in me.  I discussed the issue with other camp staff alumni and found that many were in the same place – unsure of whether or not they belong in a church.  The camp held a retreat last January called “Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home” which covered issues of how to discern whether or not belonging to a church is right for you, and if so how to find the correct congregation.  We also talked about related issues like Home Churches and spirituality that is not rooted in a church setting.

Taking ideas from the retreat and a few of my own, I began a process of determining simulateously:  1.  Whether or not to join the PC(USA) again at this time, and 2.  If so, which one?

The first question (whether or not to join the PC(USA) now) was and continues to be the harder one.  The denomination is mirroring American society as a whole – it is dividing into increasingly separate camps based loosely along the conservative/liberal continuum.  Denominational politics were fairly hostile (though still in order) through the General Assembly meeting in Birmingham, and have only gotten more hostile since (and less in order).  All of this is a huge turn-off to a potential member – particularly to one who saw human politics overriding the message of Christ in the past.  So far, I have decided that in a particular congregation, these issues are at least buffered and NOT the primary focus.  So I’m willing to give it a try.

The second question was more fun to answer.  I went through a process of attending local churches, interviewing members and staff, and reading anything I could find about them on the Internet.  I ultimately found a church that reminds me very much of the church that I grew up in in many ways.  That could be scary, but I’ve also done as much research as I can and I believe that this church is different from the church that I grew up in where it is important to me.

So, after attending on some Sundays, last week I signed up for New Member classes for the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville NJ.  Those classes take place in late October and early November.

I plan to blog about the process of a former member again joining a Presbyterian church.  I’ll also throw in amusing stories.  I do not plan to be a blogger who hides his name or church in order to be able to talk about people anonymously.  Because of that, I will probably avoid mentioning controversial issues or controversial people, unless I’m willing to make my views known publicly.

Wish me luck.


6 Comments on Church – a new chapter

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