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Hey Rev!

How do I find a church and faith to bring strength to my soul?

- Searching

Dear Searching:

Growing up in the resolutely secular environment of Vancouver, BC, I didn’t know a whole lot of folks who were out of the closet as Christians. And the Christians whom I did know weren’t always all that easy to like: a lot of them had a disdain for the intellect, a strange fascination with shame, and a kind of unsettling need to convert others to their way of understanding the world.

But then there were a few who were different. People who were generous, funny, compassionate, and wise— and, much to my surprise, who were all of these things not in spite of their Christianity but, somehow, because of it. And so I started to wonder about their spiritual practices, about the worshipping communities to which they belonged. Beginning around 15 years ago, I slowly started to follow them to church.

At first I felt pretty seriously out of place. I had never been inside of a church except to attend the odd chamber music concert. And so I stood there, silent and awkward while the people around me said the Lord’s Prayer or sung. I kept going, however. Because something kept calling me back. At first I just went on special occasions. But then I want more and more often. Tentatively, I started to mumble along with the prayers and to dust off my long disused singing voice and join in the hymns. The beauty and the challenge of going to church, the truth that I heard named there, the witness to love and to loss that I experienced in its community. These things began to change me.

I guess it’s obvious that I stuck around.

If you are hearing a call to find a church and a vigorous faith, Searching, then go find the Christians who surprise you with their love, their patience, and their willingness to take holy risks. Ask them if they mind if you tag along when they go to church. (You needn’t to be too nervous about asking that question — I guarantee you that they’ll say yes.) And then go. And ask lots of questions.

Two notes of caution as you begin the work of finding for a church home. First, be aware that it’s easy to get caught up on surface things when you initially visit a church, so go no fewer than five or six times before you make a decision as to whether a given church is for you. Sometimes, for instance, people will reflexively reject a worshipping community because it is small or because a lot of the parishioners are older than they are. But, as you come to know the people in a given community — as you discover that its members are people with names and with stories — you may find that the very things that seemed like liabilities when you first arrived are revealed as strengths, that you are grateful to be surrounded by the wisdom of elders. Give, therefore, your explorations enough time to build up relationships, to get a sense of the rhythm of a church.

Second, ditch that unfortunate expression “church shopping” and the whole philosophy that goes with it. You aren’t looking to be a consumer of religion. And nor will a good church be hoping that you will buy a product from them. To the contrary, you are looking for people who are on a common search with you, who will help you bring focus and power to that search, who will send you forth challenged and energized, who will wonder alongside of you about what Jesus is like and how we are called to respond to him.

Every now and again, I will look at the people at the church where I now serve and I will see someone standing awkwardly and remaining silent while the people around him or her pray or sing. There is something glorious about that sight, about seeing someone taking their first tentative steps into the beautiful and sometimes hard discipline which is going to church.

I don’t know what the experience of being there is like for that person. But for me, a decade and a half ago, it was a lot like first stepping out onto the surface an ice rink. Initially, your skates tremble and you lurch around like someone on a boat in a storm. But after a while, you realize that the solid water beneath you is holding you up, that it is making a new kind of movement possible. That is the moment when you begin to glide, to sail across the water. That is the moment when some people even begin to dance.

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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

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