• Hilary Hamblin

Our Search for the {Perfect} Church




I trudged into church this morning discouraged and disheartened. After visits to six churches and watching more online, we’re no closer to “finding a church home” than we were in March when we moved. Our family has managed a lot of change since we moved five months ago. I’ve transitioned to new networking groups. My husband is still learning the ways of his new co-workers. Our children started a new school and met new neighbors. But Sunday is the loneliest day of the week.


We’ve belonged to the same church throughout our entire nineteen-year marriage, but our involvement there stretches back even further. I’ve served on many committees, taught Sunday school and AWANAS classes, and brought food for church pot lucks. My husband helped run the AV equipment for a while, cooked for Vacation Bible School, and showed up for work days. We tithed, went to church camp, and participated in missions trips.


Beyond all those activities, we had relationships with people. Mothers whose children were just ahead of mine would answer my one-thousand questions about teachers and what to expect. They brought us food when we were sick. The preacher showed up when my babies were born and when my children had their tonsils out. We loved and were loved.


Don’t let my rosy picture mislead you though. This church, like every other one, has its faults. While God is the head of the church, He places His people into leadership. As much as all of us want to do what is right, we are sinful. Which means no church, anywhere, will ever be perfect. To be a part of a church means accepting the faults, seeing the good, and choosing to follow God’s instruction to assemble together with believers to serve and worship Him.


Throughout the last twenty years, this church experienced financial problems, staff turn over, dissension, divorce, and other issues. But I never considered leaving, because overall through everything the majority of the people loved God and loved people. We were all serving and doing the best we could in a sinful, broken world.


When we moved I expected to visit churches for the first few weeks, then, by the time school ended, we’d have found our place. We might even find our place in time for our kids to sign up for summer camp!


Then, Coronavirus.


We moved in on Friday, churches held their first online-only services on Sunday. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to even visit a church for almost ten weeks. And summer camp? Canceled. Everyone experienced the same withdrawing we did. We went from being at church 2-3 times a week to not going at all. We worshipped from home every Sunday, but it wasn’t the same.


When churches opened here, we were initially excited. We would finally be able to meet in person with the people we’d watched online for weeks. Except people changed over these last few months. Instead of introducing themselves to strangers, people pulled away. Pews are spaced for social distancing. Masks mean you aren’t really sure if that’s someone new or not.


Our Saturday evening discussion now centers around where we’ll go for church the next day. You know that discussion you have about what to have for supper or where to eat out on Saturday night? It feels a lot like that. We want to go, but deciding where when nothing sounds good takes away from the joy of it all.


I didn’t think I was looking for the perfect church. I know it doesn’t exist. If it did, they wouldn’t let us in because we’d mess it up. I guess what I’m looking for is the church that’s perfect for us, but that’s proving harder to find than I anticipated.


Preachers and Christian teachers love to say it’s about “relationship not religion.” Right now, however, all we’re getting is religion. Yes, it’s about a relationship with Christ, but it’s also about relationships with other believers. While the church doors are open, the relationships still feel on hold. The masks and social distancing have changed folks. People are scared to speak to someone they don’t know. Some are scared to go to church because not everyone wears a mask or respects social distancing. The opportunities to connect have disappeared.


In two churches we visited, the person at the door spoke a cursory hello, otherwise not one person in the church spoke to us or made any effort to connect. We worshipped anonymously. I’m not sure it was much better than worshiping from the recliner in my pajamas. None of the churches have started small groups or Sunday school classes which means the opportunity to get to know the church members is nonexistent.


Please hear me, this virus is real. People very dear to me are at high risk of bad consequences should they become sick. Masks and social distancing work to limit how many people at one time get the virus, but this protection comes at a cost.


In short, we miss our friends. We miss being known. We miss understanding the nuances of a place and the people. We miss the connection of hearing our dear friends sing solos. We miss our church home.


For my friends who are members of a church, don’t be shy about speaking to a stranger. Most of the churches ask for guests to fill out a card and they promise not to randomly call you or show up at your house. I understand most people don’t want a church that acts like a telemarketer, but most people want to know someone sees them.


One church sent us handwritten notes from the paster and children’s minister. Another sent us a text. A third sent us a brochure and a pre-printed letter. The more personalized communication meant so much more to us.


Church isn't about me. It isn't about socializing and visiting with friends. I get that. God continues to work on my self-centeredness. As we visit churches, we are very aware of who preaches the Word and how a church serves the community. I'm also not bashing any church or pastor. I can not imagine how hard it is to minister to people from six feet away while wearing a mask. Today I'm just homesick for my church.


I’ll leave you with this thought. Talk to people. It’s awkward sometimes, I know. I’m terrible at speaking to church visitors. But especially right now people need to know someone cares. My family has a beautiful home. We have a wonderful school. Our pantry and refrigerator are stocked. But we are church homeless, and it breaks my heart.


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