It’s funny how much I took having a church home for granted, that is, until I suddenly no longer had a church home. I never realized the subconscious feeling of comfort and “home” that came from knowing I had a church family behind me, until that feeling was gone.
Last spring, my family left our church of over seventeen years, after encountering irreconcilable doctrinal differences. About a month after this, I boarded a plane for Pucallpa, Peru. I was returning to people I knew and loved, but knew I would have to bridge the language and cultural gap to somehow explain why we didn’t have the support of our church that year. One day before the rest of the team came, Pastor Daniel came and sat down next to me at the church. He asked what had happened, and God gave me the Spanish to explain to the best of my ability. Having just gone through a church split at CEMY, Pastor Daniel listened seriously, contemplating each word and tearing up with me.
When I finished talking, he sighed heavily. “This is not God’s plan,” he said. “Everyone needs a home church, just like they need a home.” I nodded, and a smile spread across his face as he continued, “Well, this is your home now. No need to fill out membership papers, you are home.”
This was a huge blessing, and a wonderful, emotional thing for him to say. I was truly touched by this statement, and it was exactly the comfort I needed at that time. However, when I came to college, answering, “Centro Evangelico Misionero de Yarinacocha,” to the “what’s your home church?” question didn’t make much sense. Almost too obviously to mention, I couldn’t fly back to CEMY each Sunday for worship, and I wouldn’t be going there when I went home for breaks. Increasingly, as people talked about financial and emotional support from their churches back home, I felt homeless.
When I came to Chicago, I began searching diligently for a home church. I visited 4 or 5 churches before “settling” on one for three or four weeks. However, there were several things about the church that I found less than ideal, so I began to search again. The search was incredibly frustrating, and I felt entirely alone. I’ve never had to make that kind of decision without my parents. My standards were nothing out-of-the-ordinary: solid biblical preaching, contemporary worship, small congregation, outreach focused.
I grew more and more frustrated as I searched for a church. Desperately, I wanted to have a place. I wanted somewhere to go each week, where I knew people and they knew me. I wanted to work in the nursery and be part of a small group. I wanted to worship with the same congregation every Sunday, wanted to hear consistent biblical preaching. When I went home on breaks, I attended my parents’ church – which, for the first time, was not also MY church. I wanted a home, because I didn’t have one anywhere in North America.
Initially, I refused to consider The Painted Door. I had visited there one of my first weeks in Chicago, and been less than impressed with the guest speaker I had heard, plus I was disillusioned by the number of Moody students who went there. However, after several weeks, my friend David began urging me to come back “just to hear the real pastor.” I finally gave in and boarded the bus down Chicago Avenue.
On the walk home, I was speechless. The pastor had spoken hard Biblical truths directly into my heart, and I had been truly touched by the worship. I decided to go “just one more week,” to hear the pastor again, before continuing to search. That week turned into two, and soon I had decided to regularly attend The Painted Door. Each week, I walk through the (ironically unpainted) door, pour myself some coffee, take several pages of notes, and sing my heart out. I go to Gospel Community (our version of small groups) on Thursday nights, and I’ll be helping with children’s ministry pretty soon. Last week, I began reading through the constitution as I work toward membership.
It’s a routine, now, just like getting in the car and driving down Irish Road used to be. It feels so normal, so right, to take the bus to and from church, to sit with my “family” (the four guys I go to church with each week), to talk to the people from Gospel Community, and to go to the front for communion. As I stood in worship last week, with tears threatening to spill out of my eyes after a particularly convicting service, an overwhelming feeling came over me. At first, I couldn’t identify it, but after I thought about it for a while, I realized what it was. As the realization hit, a smile spread across my face and a few of those tears found their way out of the corners of my eyes. I was finally home.