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How do you choose a church?

AMIAFinalLogo.jpgWe’ve just published an essay written by the priest at the Anglican church I attend, Holy Trinity Anglican. It’s an Anglican Mission in the Americas church, which is part of the African-American conservative Anglican movement that is splitting from the Episcopal Church with increasing formality. 

My wife and I chose this church for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the schism, i.e. the ongoing debate on homosexuality and biblical authority. When we were looking for a liturgical church, Holy Trinity was the option that was closest to our home. The congregation was warm and diverse (relative to northern Colorado Springs). The priest was theologically sophisticated, yet down-to-earth. There were a handful of young families with whom we wanted to be in community. They had, I learned my first week, a Beer and Theology small group–nice bonus (tho I rarely get to attend). 
Had we lived downtown, we would have gone to Grace and St. Stephen’s, an Episcopal church that suffered a liberal-conservative split in 2006. Had we been there during the split, we likely would have “sided” with the liberals, mostly because my dear friend Michael O’Donnell (himself a sort of complex conservative) was the rector of that parish. We could have found salient points of political agreement with either side–as well as strong disagreements with both sides–and could have found a place at either, as long as both affirmed creedal orthodoxy. (Although, in that case, if the schism became either parish’s reason for being, we wouldn’t have been comfortable for long.) 
I point all this out to show that people don’t always (often?) choose churches on the basis of politics. We certainly didn’t, and I’ve been at pains to explain this again and again when I’ve told more liberal friends that I attend an AMiA church. AMiA also does not ordain women, a position with which I disagree strongly. Last summer, a friend berated me for attending a church that won’t ordain women. I share his grief over the matter, but he had absolutely no sympathy with the journey that brought my wife and I to Holy Trinity Anglican. A certain path led us inexorably there, and nowhere else. We took great pains with our decision, and in the end chose liturgy and proximity over other criteria. I’m not sure how long we’ll get to stay, but it has been the right church for us for a season, for reasons that have nothing to do with–and that are in fact in spite of–the fights over ordination. 
I don’t know anyone who goes to church anywhere who agrees with everything that goes on–at least, I don’t know any mature, critically engaged believers who feel that way about their church. Church is friggin complicated, messy, frustrating, even as it can be life-giving.
How about you? If you’re a church goer, how did you arrive at the church you attend? What needs does it meet? What keeps you there?   
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posted December 30, 2008 at 3:03 pm

“It’s an Anglican Mission in the Americas church, which is part of the African-American conservative Anglican movement that is splitting from the Episcopal Church with increasing formality.”
African-American conservative Anglican movement? I’ve never heard of such a thing before.

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Patton Dodd

posted December 30, 2008 at 3:07 pm

That was my admittedly sloppy way of describing a movement within North America to establish Anglican churches that are “overseen” (loosely) by bishops in Africa and elsewhere.

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posted December 30, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Hi Patton,
My family and I are going through a similar journey. I’ve recently moved to southern California and am still looking for a good church for my family. My criteria include: the church has to be liturgical, can be Presbyterian, but I’m open to other denominations; diverse; active and engaged in the community; a great Sunday school program for the kids and adults; theologically sophisticated and progressive; and I the church has to ordain women, sorry, but that’s not one I’m willing to give up especially as the mother of a young daughter. So far, I’ve found churches that meet most of these criteria, but I guess I’m struggling with the community element…how different churches I’ve visited make me feel welcome. I really miss my former Presbyterian church and I hope to find a church where I can feel engaged and one that is active and present in the larger community.

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Tim Chambers

posted January 1, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Hi Patton. My family attends Grace on Tejon Street. My children are acolytes. Michael was my rector and friend at Christ the King Anglican (CTK, AMiA). We attended St. Matthias Episcopal from 1991 to 2000. We joined St. Matthias because it felt like home to us. (I was on the vestry when we articulated the mission as “Coming home to Christ.”) There was some unpleasantness around joining CTK that I won’t go into, but I did pray about the decision to leave St. Matthias. (I desire to ask God about that when I see him. J) We joined Grace in early 2004 on Michael’s recommendation (he resigned from CTK and eventually joined Grace) and because we wanted our children to have a youth minister.
I think it’s most true that in America, parents follow their children to church. We started attending church in 1991 with the imminent birth of my first child. I also like to believe that God calls us to His house. It seems to me that many are “church shoppers.” I agree with you that “creedal orthodoxy” is essential. Beyond that, I think stability is important.

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Mike Morrell

posted January 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm

What a great post, Patton.
As we’re presently in a church-transitional time, I can’t really tell you our criteria per se…I’ll let you know when we do!

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posted January 3, 2009 at 11:50 pm

We went through a nearly identical journey to end up at the same church, as you know. We also share many of your basic frustrations (particularly over ordination of women). But, we’ve found (especially as we are now back to church shopping) that community needs tend to trump all the other messy difficulties of church. You noted this in your landing at HTAC, and we are still hoping for it now that we are back to church shopping. A good community of people AND a solid liturgy? Done. And that’s HTAC. Enjoy. Looking forward to joining you in worship next week.

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