I know it has been a while since my last entry but with the pandemic and adjusting to new life as a military spouse in a new country has kept me busy to say the least. I want to preface this entry with the disclaimer that this is not a church bashing article or “putting them on blast” but more of a cautionary tale for new Christians like me looking for a new church because you just got saved or in my situation moving a lot because military or other work. I have gone back and forth about even drafting this article for a while now but felt lead to share with others now that it is not so “raw.”
We moved to Lake Steven’s, WA in July of 2020, we were originally supposed to be in San Diego, CA but ended up here instead because the ship Eric got attached to was in drydock in Seattle instead of her homeport in San Diego. We were only supposed to be here for about nine months, but you know how it goes with any major overhauls to anything, especially military, we have now been here almost three years. In that time, we were a part of two churches, second is where we attend now and love it; and they could not have been any more different.
The first one we attended claims to be nondenominational, but they identify with evangelical and apologetics in their teachings and their sermons are reading the bible from cover to cover, verse by verse, and takes about five years to complete, then they do it all over again. We first attended when they were having church service outdoors under a tent because of covid restrictions back in early fall of 2020. At first it was great they taught the New Testament on Sundays, had free dinners on Wednesday nights and taught Old Testament afterwards, had a great youth and children’s ministries to get the girls plugged into, I started volunteering as a sound engineer shortly after because I love worship and I love to serve. Then I started volunteering with the Food Bank distribution days, and the café, and eventually got plugged into their MOPS group and did sound and video for that. At the point where everything came crashing down, I was volunteering 4-5 days a week (would do sound for funerals, church events, and weddings too) and poured a lot of myself into this church but I still felt like I was not a part of it at the same time, before and in between services I would hide up in the nest because any time I would try to socialize or feel a part of the group in the lobby I would feel alone in a crowded room which I have found to be the worst type of loneliness so I started keeping to myself to avoid the pain of rejection. In this time, it is important to note that we were having issues with our now teenage daughter, Mia, at first, we thought she was just acting out and testing the waters so to speak but then it started escalating to LGBTQ questioning, self-harm and talks of suicide, so we got her help to see a therapist. It was in one of those sessions that it came out that she was being abused by her paternal grandfather when she would go for visits, and he threatened to harm myself and her younger sister Kiera if she said anything to anyone. I was floored and brought to my knees with guilt by this revelation and naturally tried to seek help from the church. They had good intentions I am sure, but Mia became the scapegoat for anything LGBTQ related and started to become ostracized from her peers, they isolated her when they should have loved on her in her weakest hours and almost shattered her faith completely. The point where we had enough was when we were called into a meeting with the head pastor and youth pastor because at their elder meeting, they decided Mia was a danger to the church and they were stripping me of my ministries because they claim to view me as an elder and threw 1 Timothy 3 as justification for this, and that she must remain at least six feet near me at all times and that I need to remove her from public school and homeschool her “to become the wife and mother God wanted to me to be” to shield her from outside influences in her fragile state. She needed love and grace, not legalism and shunning. That happened on a Thursday we went to church the following Sunday and let the head pastor know we prayed about it and believe the best thing for our family was to step away from this church and we were told we were running away from our responsibilities as parents and Christians... we took that as the final straw that we were doing the right thing and we left.
Around the same time a church was putting out mailers and I was seeing their signs EVERYWHERE! So, in July of 2022 we decided to attend on a trial basis if this was the right fit for our family. It was like night and day, the people were friendly and welcoming, they were helpful in getting the kids signed up for kid's church and youth. The sermons were a lot like Abundant Life Chapel, relatable and applicable to today’s Christians but still full of biblical truth to back it up. They advertised for this thing they have called Starting Point which gives a behind the scenes look at the church, how it runs, and some of the ministry teams. I signed up to do Sound Engineering and the difference in how they treat their volunteers was staggering and we knew we found a new church home.
The part I really want to get into is that before everything went down at the first church I was getting red flags that I chose to ignore... newcomers that would say they have been attending for about a month now and not one person greeted them or struck up a conversation with them, how production team was treated as less than because we were behind the scenes and not on the stage, how there were little cliques of people that grew up together or attended youth themselves but wouldn’t branch out and engage with newer “outsiders”, how I would hide up in the sound nest so I wouldn’t have to feel alone in the crowded lobby in between and before services, how my daughter was feeling cast out in youth because she didn’t fit the mold and dared to ask questions; all of these were signs of an unhealthy church but I chose to ignore them because I so badly wanted to belong and believed that as a Christ follower I would naturally belong with other Christ followers and I would get that sense of community and inclusion I craved because I didn’t receive it as a child and young adult.
So, what I’m saying is don’t try to force it, or dismiss your feelings because you figure they are just feelings when in reality your feelings are a reaction to a change in your environment or your situation, they are not necessarily the reality but they were designed by God to give us pause and really take a look at our surroundings to discover why we are feeling that way, and to listen to your gut and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, because once I started relying on that again I found my people and where I am supposed to be instead of trying to jam myself in a spot I didn’t fit like mismatched puzzle pieces.