Finding a church. Sounds simple, right?
I had not regularly attended church in 20 years. Kathy and I took the family to Episcopal Easter and Christmas services. That’s because Kathy grew up Episcopal, and we were married in an Episcopal church in Denver.
But I grew up attending St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Jersey City. My mom would later join a new parish, Our Lady of Mercy, which was closer to our home. This new parish didn’t have a building yet, so Mass was celebrated in the Moose Hall on Westside Avenue in Jersey City. There sat the altar right between two huge moose heads. Those were the days!
I then attended the Catholic Xavier High School in New York City. I think they had one of the most beautiful churches in NYC. It was on 16th Street just off 6th Avenue squeezed between the high school and an apartment building. The entrance was magnificent, and the interior was even grander. I only attended Mass at Xavier if it was part of our normal high school activities. Otherwise, on Sunday I was with my mom looking at the moose heads.
Now I had to choose a church.
Since this was 1993, there was no internet. I looked in the phone book for the number of the nearest Catholic church. I called and got the service times. I decided to go to their first service which was at 7 am. This would give me a chance to slip out of the house without bothering anyone. I also remembered from childhood the 7 am Mass only lasted a half hour. I could be back before the family got going.
This went on for a couple of weeks. Then I decided to try other churches. I went to a Methodist and an Espicopal which were close to our house. For some reason, I shied away from Baptist, but I’m not sure why. And I didn’t know what Presbyterian and Lutheran were about, so I didn’t go there either.
After visiting all these different churches, I settled on a neighborhood Episcopal church. I felt at home there for a couple of reasons. I liked the pastor. He had a kindness about him which I found inviting. When he welcomed the attendees on Sunday, I believed he meant it. He was glad to see us. He also preached from the Bible. He talked about Jesus like he knew him personally. I liked that. He drew me in. I was learning what it meant to live a relationship with Jesus.
One Sunday as I was getting dressed for church, Kathy was already up. She asked, “Can we come to church with you?”
“Sure,” I said shakily.
That day was the first day we went to church on Sunday as a family. I was hoping Kathy would approve of the church and would like the pastor. She did. In fact, she fell in love with the guy. She immediately saw the love of Christ in him.
She also liked the size of the church. There were about 75 people in attendance. It was intimate and inviting. People welcomed us. We felt a part of the community from the first day we attended.
The kids, however, were another story. This was a brand new experience for them. They felt ripped from their Sunday routine of TV and playing. They were forced to get all dressed up and go to an event which didn’t make sense to them. Worse yet, their dad couldn’t explain it to them as he was figuring it out himself. I was just thankful we were attending church together as a family. It was the right thing to do.
Then Sunday School happened.
It wasn’t long before we decided to also attend Sunday School. It was an opportunity for the kids to learn the Bible and meet friends in our new church community. It was also a chance for Kathy and me to study the Bible together.
One day, the leader of our Sunday School said he couldn’t make it. He asked for a volunteer to teach the next week. I volunteered. Why not? I was attending a men’s Bible study every Friday morning for the last few months. I was not an expert, but I figured I could stay one step ahead of the class. And I like to teach.
I figured I would stick to whatever the Bible said. I didn’t know anything about Episcopal doctrine so I figured teaching directly from the Bible would keep me out of trouble. The more classes I taught, the more I learned about the Bible. I was becoming more confident and growing in my faith-walk.
But the classes didn’t always go well. Not knowing the Episcopal doctrine turned out to be a problem. I was teaching the Bible, but little did I know the church had moved away from some of the Bible’s teaching.
The rift that became a split.
The next Sunday School year, our pastor announced the only people who would teach Sunday School were the pastors. Lay leaders were out. I knew they came to this new policy because of the run-ins I had with some of the long-time members in the Sunday School. When the Bible clashed with doctrine, doctrine won the day.
But I was becoming a biblically-centered Christian. I came to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. If it was written in the Bible, it was the truth as told to me by God.
The more I knew the Bible, the more I started to disagree with what was being said in the Sunday sermons by the assistant pastors. Scripture was being taken out of context. Interpretations were inconsistent with what was just read from the Bible. Sometimes I would get so worked up I wanted to stand during the sermon and scream, “That’s not true!”
As I looked around, it seemed like I was the only one seeing this. That’s when I knew we had to leave this church. We were not learning biblical truth. My kids were being misled. But Kathy loved this pastor. And so did I. I came to learn his hands were tied by the doctrine of the church. They paid his salary, and he was a life-long Episcopal priest, three years from retirement.
My search for another church began.
I wanted to attend other churches, but Kathy was loyal to our pastor. One weekend she was in Hilton Head, and I was home with our son David who had a soccer tournament. So I was free to attend another church.
I told a few of my friends in the tech community about the issues I was experiencing. They told me this wasn’t surprising. They had the same experience. They were now attending Church of the Apostles on Northside. Mike Taylor, an executive recruiter in technology, invited David and me to join him that Sunday.
We met Mike at the door, and he took us to a Sunday School class. The teacher was Bruce Cook who was teaching on Isaiah. Being new to the Bible, I never could understand Isaiah. But when Bruce taught, the clouds parted. So this is good Bible teaching, I thought.
Then David and I went to the service, and Michael Youssef gave the sermon. He spoke straight out of the Word of God with authority.
Now I had a problem.
I’d found our new church, but Kathy didn’t know about it yet. What do I do now?