The hardest part of moving to a new city where you don’t know many people is searching for a new church. You can’t ask just anyone, because walking up to someone in the street and asking where they go to church is both awkward and impolite.
Er, or so I’m told.
We start our search a couple weeks after we arrive, trying one church after another. A good friend introduces us to his sister and brother-in-law, and we visit their church. It’s a nice church, very big, and everyone is very friendly. But we’re more liberal than this church, so we agree to keep looking. However, we also agree we may want to revisit this church once in a while. Sometimes there’s something cool about being in a big church.
The following Saturday, we Google “progressive church Orlando” and try to choose from the most liberal-sounding ones that don’t delve into the hippy-dippy.
That didn’t work.
If there was a church created specifically for hipsters, we find it the next morning. There are so many lumberjack beards and flannel shirts here, I think I’m in Portland, Oregon.
It’s also the first church I’ve ever been to that has its own hip hop dancers. I mean, I have friends who play in church bands, and Toni even got her start singing in church. But I have never, ever met a church hip hop dancer.
“Oh, so you’re a musician?”
“Well, no. I’m a hip hop dancer.”
We decided this particular church wasn’t for us when one of the singers began genuflecting on the stage. Sort of a Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” burying his face into the stage a couple times through the chorus.
Far be it from me to say how someone should praise Jesus, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do it when they weren’t backstage at an Alice Cooper concert. Still, the guy’s on fire for Jesus, so genuflect like the wind, man.
The following week, we try God’s House Orlando. A couple of our atheist friends speak highly of this place. If there’s one church they especially don’t go to, this one is their favorite. They know and love the pastor, who’s a long-time friend of theirs, and they’ve had many discussions with him. So they recommend we try this one.
It’s a small church whose goal is “to be the most loving church in Orlando.” And we get that love with both barrels. We walk in the door 15 minutes before the second service starts, and we’re met with wave after wave of smiles, handshakes, and hugs.
And not the pasted on smiles of people who have to be “on” for Sundays even though they fought all the way to church that morning. These are people who have fully embraced their mission of being the most loving church in Orlando, and they’re deliriously happy. It’s contagious.
We talk for several minutes before and 20 minutes after church. We’re among the last people to leave, because we’ve talked to so many of them. We talk to over half the people in the service (admittedly, it’s a small one this day), and hear a lot of interesting stories.
We go back the next week to the earlier service, and get more of the same.
We visit God’s House Orlando twice, which we have not done with any of the other churches. It ranks very highly on the family list, but there are a few more churches we want to visit.
A few weeks later, we’re at a satellite church near where our new house will be — about 15 – 20 minutes away, which is actually kind of close in Metro Orlando. Our new house is about 3.5 miles from the University of Central Florida, and the church is in a conference center on campus.
Satellite church often means “TV church,” and this one is no exception. There are 30 or so of us in a large meeting room, complete with folding chairs, a small stage, and a large projection screen. And there are roughly 7 or 8 other satellites around central Florida.
We sing to a live band, get a few announcements from the satellite pastor (who’s actually there with us), and then hear the message from the senior pastor in the — I don’t know what you’d call it — mother ship(?). The camera angles are very tight on Mother Ship Pastor, so I whisper to Toni that it’s either pre-recorded or there’s not actually anyone in the audience.
We learn the truth the following week, when we visit the Mother Ship Church in Clermont. It turns out to be a pretty big church, about as big as the very first one we visited, except it’s more liberal. We’re not sure how much more, although no one is dancing on stage. Still, there are a few hipsters in the church band, and I even catch a glimpse of a man bun or two. Also, one of the tech guys runs a sci-fi podcast I recently subscribed to. They even answer one of my Twitter questions about The Flash on the podcast, so they can’t be all bad.
The downside is that the mother ship is about 50 minutes away from our new house, and will cost around $8 – $10 in tolls just to go.
I like the church, I just don’t $20-in-highway-robbery like it. And Toni doesn’t like TV church. So this one is out.
This Sunday, we try a church in our hometown, excited that they’ve got something for everyone — middle school and high school youth groups, young adult groups — and it’s just a few miles from our house.
Except it ends up being a big disappointment. It’s not anything we can put our finger on. It seems very conservative, very strict in some of their teachings, and they don’t seem to expect (or allow) a lot of things from their women. I see a lot of suits and dresses. I’m glad I wore jeans and not shorts.
The pastor says a few things — he demonstrates a knowledge of world events and American pop culture history — that perk up my ears, but it’s not enough for us to get over the feeling that it’s really not for us.
Toni and I even discuss which church we liked better, the hippy-dippy church from week 2 or this church. We remember the Hip Hop Dancers for Jesus and the “we’re not worthy” singer and we agree that this church was at least better than that one. We’re mixed about where the rest rank for us, but we all agree that God’s House Orlando truly made us feel loved. It’s just far away (although not as far as the Mother Ship with all the satellites).
So the search continues. We go back to Google and Google Maps to begin a new search for a new church home.
The Israelites may have wandered the desert for 40 years, but they didn’t have Google Maps or Yelp, so hopefully we’ll solve our problem in 40 weeks.