If you have been reading Austin's blog (www.allforaustin.blogspot.com), then you know that we were facing some changes in our lives. I wasn't ready to post exactly what it was because some people were unaware of the changes and they read this blog. Now we are ready to share our decision. I also wasn't sure that I wanted to post it at all on here, but it is a big part of our lives right now. As a warning, I am going to share some strong opinions here, so if you are offended, please do not read any farther. (I also got a little windy!)
As of yesterday, we left our church. We are going to be attending a new church. After much prayer and discussion, it because incredibly clear that we are not where we need to be anymore. It was really difficult for us to decide this. I accepted Christ at our current church and Steve's faith got even stronger; our last pastor went to Dubuque to marry us and was a large part of our wedding and our lives; all our boys (except Austin) were baptised there; and Steve and I were both highly involved in a lot of areas of that church. For the last year, we have not been happy. We have been praying and praying for something to realize if we needed to stick it out, and we tried. As soon as our last pastor left, several changes took place.
First, the doors to the church were locked 24/7 unless the pastor or secretary were there. The secretary was there more often and she is only there from 8-1 a few days a week. That meant there were entire days and every evening/afternoon that it was locked up. What does that say about our position of faith that we lock our church up so noone who needs it can get in? Just to keep a few "juvenile delinquents" out. (The reason I was given.) And maybe those kids really need to be there. We are not trusting God to protect His own place of worship??
Our contemporary service fell by the way side. It was neglected, I felt, and I got the impression it was not a priority and was looked at as fluff. We merged with another church who also had a contemporary service, but their contemporary was in addition to tradition worship. Ours was our worship service for many in our church. From the start, it just wasn't great. We have chosen the contemporary service because it's our preferred style of worship and it is more relaxed. Austin is much more comfortable in that service and so are we. We do not feel the need to explain to anyone that, while it looks like he isn't paying attention, he's probably getting more out of it than anyone else. He lays down on the pew and puts his hands over his eyes, so that he isn't getting a lot of other input and can just focus on the message. It looks disrespectful in a traditional service, but we know why he's doing it. We also don't have to worry as much about what Austin is wearing and we can eliminate that part of his sensory issues by allowing him freedom in his attire. We were not getting the same sermon the other service was in the beginning because our pastor was assuming we would all be at the traditional service and it just wasn't tended to the same way it had been. Finally, Steve and I overtook it and for the last several months, Steve has written the script, found the scripture, picked the songs, and done everything for the service; while I lead it every Sunday morning. We have been using Nooma and Andy Stanley videos for our sermons. It has very much felt like we were "renting" space to have our own little church. But we were willing to do it to keep the service alive. It has been falling apart, though, and more people have left than I can count. I was told, when I informed the pastor that it was over, that she was told from the beginning of her time that it wasn't a well attended service and was not worth fighting for from our district superintendent. What?!?!! That was our most heavily attended service and what right did the DS have to give it a death sentence from the word go??? That really upset me not just because of our church, but the entire denomination as a whole.
Prior to the triplets, I was highly involved in our children's ministry programs. I spent a lot of time on our Safe Sanctuary policies, which was mandated by our bishop, only to have a lot of members very upset by the new policies. Then it was largely ignored anyway when it came time to implement it. A lot of people felt that I alone had decided these policies and that they were not necessary in a church our size. They were told over and over that it was mandated by the bishop, but did not believe it. I gave up when the triplets were on their way and have not enforced it, yet am still getting remarks about it.
I have fought for over five years to get safe classrooms in our church building. We have rooms in the balcony that are being used, with risers still in them and broken glass panels that are a huge danger. Everyone fought me tooth and nail in fixing any of it, because it is "beautiful stained glass." Yes, in it's day, it was beautiful. But today it is being held together literally by tape in most places and it is an eyesore, not to mention dangerous. We raised money and finally got one room totally fixed up. I thought that would show people that we could do it tastefully and from the sanctuary, you wouldn't even notice the difference. No, it just made people madder that we messed with it at all. Almost all our money was used up after one and a half classrooms, so it has sat. We also had a very difficult time paying the electric bill most months due to people withholding their offerings because of our last pastor. There were times our last pastor and last secretary were not paid, because it was either pay them or pay the light and heat bills. Just in the last two months, $17,000 was raised for a new floor in the fellowship hall (which was not needed). The parsonage has been fixed up beyond anything I have ever seen (our last pastor had to literally buy his own door when the lock was broken and the trustees felt it was his responsibility). All this money suddenly appears from nowhere and is used for things that don't need to be done...while classrooms and our children are still unsafe.
My final straw was confirmation. Our church has always confirmed in seventh grade. I believe that confirmation should have no age...when you accept Jesus as your Savior, then you either become confirmed or are baptized. Whether that's at 10 or 110. However, I knew this was our church's stand and I just decided if my children couldn't honestly tell me by their words and actions that they had accepted Christ by that magical age, they would not be confirmed. Austin is in seventh grade, so it was his year. We discussed it at length and I truly felt he was ready to publicly announce his faith and make a promise to his church. Then the pastor decided to include sixth graders in confirmation. Now, seeing my beliefs (as I just stated), this was hard for me. I decided to go to the pastor with my concerns and I was largely brushed off, being told I could take it to the Ed. team. I did. I would have been OK with sixth graders being confirmed if there was a good reason for it and it was a faith-filled decision. The reasons I heard were that the pastor wanted every other year off because she has no time; one person had three children three years in a row and would need to come back again next year to confirm another child if her sixth grader wasn't allowed to be confirmed with her seventh grader; and "sports/music programs get in the way of confirmation" (was stated that way...I heard "confirmation gets in the way of music/sports"). These were the reasons stated for lowering the age. What?!?!?! Seriously? Nothing about faith, nothing about Jesus Christ. When I mentioned the intended meaning of confirmation is to confirm your faith in Jesus Christ, a few of the teachers looked uncomfortable. These are the people who are teaching my children? I think not.
I went home from that meeting with my mind made up. Steve had made up his mind that he wanted to leave over a year ago, so he was fine with it. When I started to see our church dying several months ago, I was concerned, but willing to try to stick it out. Many people have left...including the Holy Spirit. I have not felt the Spirit in that place in a long time. It is not just me. That's sad to me and I am not willing to sacrifice my walk any longer nor my children's. I have been getting most of my fulfillment lately from my bible study and Steve from various pastors he sees online. And while that's good, that's just supposed to be a supplement to church. It hasn't been...it's been a replacement. I need to grow again and not feel stagnant. I need to feel challenged in a sermon...and a little uncomfortable. I need to think about the message that's been said, by a pastor who's there in the flesh, rather than leave feeling good about myself and what I am doing. I'm not there to get a pat on the back...I'm there to be challenged to grow and to encourage other believers and be encouraged by other believers.
I know our pastor believes that we are leaving because we are finished with the contemporary service. It has so little to do with that. There are so many things wrong and I can't keep being angry at my church. I fight the schools non-stop for what Austin needs...I fight at home with Austin with so many meltdowns....I need church to be a place where I feel OK and not like I have to keep fighting everyone for every little thing that needs to be done. Our family needs a change. And while it is not going to be easy for any of us, it will be a transition we will make together and we are all now very excited about making.