While the school is much of our life, we never wanted it to be everything. From the moment we anticipated making the move, we knew that along with the school, we would have two primary tasks once we arrived in England. The first was to find a church, the second, to find community. Leaving great examples of both behind, we knew we would never be settled until those two things were sorted.
The search for a church continues. After a dozen church visits, even more conversations with pastors, priests, and ministers, we now have a clear sense of what we want, even if we have no idea where we will find it. Our criteria have changed several times since we have arrived, but I think we have fully distilled it now unto the most essential elements.
We pray for a church that has…
- An orthodox Christian faith
- A sacramental theology
- A vibrant community
- Good music
- A firm understanding of who has the authority to tell them what they are for and how they can worship God.
When we moved here, I had a longer list, but these feel like the essentials. If we have to compromise, the first to go will be the last. It is hard both in our area and in this country to find a leader of a church who, in the past >18 months, is willing to say “no” to outside forces want to tell them how to gather and worship. We also recognize that we may have to find a church that has some but not all of the above. Right now, we know of congregations that are orthodox and sacramental, but they do not have community. And the ones that are orthodox and communal are not sacramental.
We continue to pray and look. However, as our former priest vocalized on a call last night, there is nothing as soul-wearying as church shopping. This is true and a few times it has motivated me to settle for something that I know I would not love. In those moments, however, Jessica is great to challenge me to continue to search for a church home where we can grow.
Last night, I discovered a church about 90 minutes away that could possibly have all 5 of the above. Just this morning, I mentioned to Jessica that I was weighing the pros and cons of driving an hour and a half every Sunday to church. She mentioned that even if the community was good, we would still not be connected to them because of the distance. So that option is out, but it should give you a sense of where we are at that I entertained the idea at all.
Thankfully, this one is easier to figure out than the church. For a church, we cannot simply create the thing we want. With social and communal gatherings, however, you can! My favorite way of building community is to pick something that I would enjoy on my own and to invite other people to join me. If they want to come, wonderful! If not, then I go ahead and do it anyways. Interestingly enough, I have yet to do anything completely by myself.
Recently, two things have had a wonderful turn out as we work to create social spaces with the parents and staff of the school. The first is our Thanksgiving meal. Jessica and I are hosting all the families here at the school tomorrow for one big American Thanksgiving. You can expect pictures of this to come later. We had 23 adults and 14 children (mostly under 5s) RSVP.
The other is my own attempt to create a gathering for men like Kirk in Arizona. Unlike our dinner, this is designed to be a recurring event, so I will see in a few months if it is actually successful. Our first meeting went well.
While everyone at the school is wonderful, Jessica and I are also looking for friends outside the school (education is great, but we are more than teachers). We have established some connections with a somewhat American pastor who moved to the area with his family to church plant. His parents live in the area, but he grew up in France and married a Dutchwoman. And for the last four years, they lived in the New Jersey. Other than them, our hope is in that church community that we have yet to find for other friends.
There is lots to be thankful for, and lots of progress that has been made, and also much that we wait for the Lord to accomplish. Reminds me of a certain liturgical season we are about to enter into…