A Wonderful Positive Conclusion

Not long ago I posted about some less than pleasant goings on among some members of the church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/dark-clouds-looming/).

Well the mentioned church meeting has happened and it turns out it went very well. There were a couple of individuals who clearly still had issues and they are personal. That said, the efforts that the pastor had gone to to encourage conciliation and to stem gossip and anonymous disparaging had clearly paid off. It’s a shame that none of this was known before the meeting started.

One of the main turnaround points of the meeting was when a key protagonist admitted that he had been convicted of his wrong attitude and expressed a desire to move forward in a positive way.

Suffice to say, my wife came back from that meeting with none of the dread she had when she went to it.

If was refreshing to hear that a spiralling negative situation can be corrected. Its not perfect and it is a lot better, which is a great thing.

Something else that happened was a conversation my wife had with another church member. This particular member hasn’t got on with my wife since we started attending over a year ago. This member came up to my wife to address that and apologise. It was made clear that the problem wasn’t my wife but that this particular individual has an issue with what happens at the front of the church. She likes the preacher to be the person who leads the whole service, namely announces the hymns and says the prayers.

The new casual style that has become the norm since my wife got involved is difficult for this person. I think its good for this sort of thing to be admitted, it helps people like my wife to understand those she is leading in worship. These people need gently leading into new forms of worship. It’s a shame that what people are used to can become such a norm and so comfortable that it represents an importance that matches the key aspects of the religion they follow.

So, the church appears to have survived what could have been a devastating split. Its not plain sailing yet, but it does represent a major positive step and has shown to many people that difficulties can be overcome and change, while difficult, can be achieved.

Dark Clouds Looming

Since this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/theres-a-problem-in-front-of-the-pulpit/) there have been some troubling developments at our local church.

Being slightly out of the loop with my non-attendance, I don’t have a really clear picture of what’s going on. What appears to be happening though is that the older generation folks mentioned in the linked post above are gathering troops to possibly stage a rebellion. Sad.

The Pastor concerned, has made efforts at reconciliation, but there are some who simply will not take the proffered Olive Branch. He has even felt the need to preach about having an attitude of love and reconciliation from the pulpit.

On a personal level I find this whole situation strange because it wasn’t all that long ago I would have joined a similar group of dissatisfied church members in revolting against the pastor (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/).

The difference of course is that the current problem features a pastor who has the needs of the church at his heart and is being as gracious as he can in a difficult situation. The previous situation featured a pastor who was driving his agenda in a way many saw as arrogant and didn’t really seem to care if people left the church as a result.

Differences aside, there is a bigger issue here which bothers me.

This all feels terribly unchristian. The more I think about what’s happening, the more I think “Where is the love and where do those who are unhappy think god is in this situation?”.

I can’t see how any of this can result in anything good and as a person who now no longer accepts god I find it all rather distasteful and really has put me off this church. Sad.

Whatever happens with this group of renegades, one thing is certain life for the church members will different. I only hope that those who remain afterwards have something left to build with.

There’s a problem in front of the pulpit

I wasn’t expecting to get frustrated with the church we’re now attending, but now that we’ve been in our new location for a year the imperfections have begun to show and this time my wife and I find ourselves in the opposite position that we were in when I wrote this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/)

To set the scene, this church is predominantly an elderly congregation. The blunt bottom line is that unless the church attracts a significant number of younger people it will cease to be able to function. By younger I mean working people in the 20-40 year age group. Even the 40-60 age range is not that well stocked. The pastor and his wife are middle aged, placing them among the youngest church members.

The church has struggled along for a time with this elderly, however, its location in the town is an advantage and it has a thriving youth club setup where it is very busy each Friday night. Not many of these kids translate into young adults on a Sunday morning though. For that to happen there needs to be a change.

This is where the problems are.

When we first started attending the church more than a year ago, Sunday worship consisted of either a piano or the organ (which is a rather decent pipe organ) being played somewhat averagely or for a chorus, the song was played from a CD. It really wasn’t very inspiring.

The pastor has worked very hard to be relevant to a younger congregation because he knows this is what he needs to attract to the church. Other church members have apparently been praying hard for a long time for someone talented to come and improve the music aspects of Sunday services.

So when the pastor employs an office assistant, a lady with a good singing voice married to a man who plays keyboards in a band, and shortly after my wife turns up, also with a good singing voice, and music skills and a desire to lead worship; its seen by some as the answer they’ve been looking for.

If it was so perfect, what went wrong?

People, that’s what went wrong.

A year has gone by and my wife regularly leads worship and when she does the church gets treated to a very skilled keyboardist, a gentle drummer and two wonderful female vocals. Occasionally she pulls out her flute as well. She puts a lot of effort into making sure what she arranges is thoughtful, fits with theme and sensitive to as many needs as she can.

However, its still not good enough for some because now its like they are being performed to and they don’t want that. Its also been noted that the three couples mentioned above socialise a lot together and some think that’s not on. As it happens, the three men (Pastor, Keyboardist and myself) all go the local camera club and the three ladies have become good friends. Its only natural that there would be dinners between them all, after all, without each other the three couples wouldn’t have the essential social life of people the same age.

That’s not all that there is, there are some people with specific theological agendas, some of which conflict with the pastor. From what I’ve seen, I think the pastor is right and those with the agendas are on questionable theological ground.

So here I am, in the unexpected position of being an atheist in support of a pastor, who I call a good friend, while elderly Christians, people of long standing faith who should know better, threaten the church and spread bitterness. A sizeable number of people are apparently absent from services now and the pastor’s attempts to visit and reconcile have been rebuffed. I say apparently absent, because I no longer attend, but that’s for another post.

 

Checking in on the Past

Its getting close to the first anniversary of the limey family move to a coastal location (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/settling-into-a-new-location/).

A lot has happened in that year, yet it feels like its flown past. On the whole we are very happy with the choice we made. We like where we live, we have made some good friends, our daughter is doing very well at her new school, better than we think she would have done had we not moved. We are more relaxed and happiness is up.

There has been one big negative. A dear friend from our last church lost his fight with cancer and we were unable to attend the funeral. Accounts say the church was packed and I am not surprised, he was an immensely popular man and was hugely respected by many of the young people. It was very upsetting not being able to attend but things conspired against us and it simply wasn’t possible.

On a more positive note; other good friends held their regular start of the summer BBQ and we made the trip back to our old town. That was a far more appropriate occasion to catch up with many familiar faces and share stories and updates on the past 10 months. Before the BBQ we stopped by to see the wife of good friend mentioned above. We were pleased to see that she’s being cared for, but adjustment to losing a spouse after all those years and having to deal with an empty house must be hard.

One of the inevitable conversation pieces during the BBQ would be the state of the church we left behind. Some more of our friends have left since we moved, yet the church continues to attract new members so the loss does not appear to be affecting the membership; though the demographic has been affected.

One of the friends who left is cancer survivor. She left because she didn’t like seeing people in corners obvious talking about her in hushed tones. Her illness and survival seemed to change the way some people approached her, specifically those who didn’t know her so well. Her friends of course treated her and loved her just the same and it really was good to see her again. One specific person in the church, who is now a deacon, has very strong literal and creationist views. On one occasion he had intimated something to her husband about sin and illness and the couple were left feeling that they were being judged for her not having claimed her full healing in the Name of Christ!

I think that would likely make me leave a church. I don’t know what the exact conversation was, but I do know that if I’d been the husband on the receiving end of such wisdom I’d have been far less gracious than that husband was.

There was one more shocking account of our previous church to come; this time involving the pastor. In a conversation with another couple where the subject of leaving the church came up (again I don’t know the exact details of the conversation) the pastor’s attitude was that he wasn’t bothered if people left the church. This was especially the case if the issue was on differences of theology. The pastor’s attitude was plainly that he was right and people leaving was because they were not on his side and if it was a theology issue it was an attempt by the devil to devide.

His arrogance in these matters appears to know no bounds. Sadly I am not surprised that this is his view, but I am deeply saddened.

By way of contrast, many years ago, in the early days of our marriage; my wife and I went to our Vicar (this was a Church of England Church) and explained that for all the good church did. It didn’t meet the needs of a young couple without children. He shed a tear and expressed his sadness. That is how one should react when people talk about leaving your church.

The Coming Out Begins

I’ve mentioned that a conversation on membership at our new church will be had soon (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/two-things-that-happened-last-sunday/). Well, its happened.

My wife mentioned that she’d spoken to the pastor about prospective membership and that he was due to come round and have a preliminary chat with us. Well I couldn’t hold it off any longer, there was only one thing I could do and that was indicate my concerns.

So we had a discussion about how I was having doubts in my faith. That my increased scientific understanding had led me to doubt significant biblical events to the point where I now questioned the reliability of the bible.

We talked around a few things and my wife mentioned that at least I hadn’t rejected it all completely and gone atheist on her. Ouch. I guess that was my cue to fess up completely, but I couldn’t do it. She did confirm that she had strongly suspected the situation for a while.

My justification for not going the full confession with her is that, the news is still new to her and that to go straight to the end point would be a bit much. I know its dishonest, but I think its better than full disclosure at the moment. My journey to atheism was not short and I think exposing it as a short journey might not be that helpful. So there is more to discuss.

Membership won’t happen for me

So upshot of the discussion is that my wife suggested that I don’t go for membership of the church, but that she still will.

There were other things she said too. She expressed a desire for us to continue to have conversations on religion. She also said she wanted us to continue to go to church as a family and it was important to her that I supported what she wants to do within the church, especially as I do know what it is like to be committed to the church as a Christian. This is all fine with me. I can’t expect support for my position if I can’t support hers.

The next day, the pastor came round to chat about membership and before he chatted to my wife, I went for a short walk with him to explain my position. He understood and took it on board, he thanked me for my honesty and explained that given that information there is no way he could accept me into membership. The conversation ended positively and we continue to build what I think is going to be a good friendship.

The pastor has lent me a book called, “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?” I think its clear from the title that the conclusion will be acceptance of evolution, likely to be guided with a divine hand. I have started reading it and the opening chapter makes it clear that its primarily aimed at Christians who wish to answer further questions on evolution. Maybe this isn’t the right sort of book for me, but I’m going to read it anyway and see where it goes.

Where next?

Given the open and honest conversations we’ve had, I am positive for the future for my wife and I. I had built up a lot of fear in myself on how I could tell her and what would happen. It turns out that fear was unfounded.

Has he left the church? Should I go to see him?

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I were unhappy in our past church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/). This was one of the reasons for me no longer attending before we re-located to our lovely seaside location.

I knew that my non-attendance could never go unnoticed. I was wondering when the pastor would notice and if it would result in a visit. Despite the negative things I have said about him, he was very good at pastoral care, engaging and very sympathetic, also wise beyond his years on personal and emotional issues. He had proven to be a very real support and friend during Mum’s final years (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/death-of-a-much-loved-mother/) and previous to that, when I discovered a book about the farm my family lived on in Zambia which gave new details of Mum’s kidnap ordeal (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) he was also very supportive as the revelations brought fresh pain and memories of that most awful event.

So, when it was reported to me that the pastor had noticed my absence and had asked one of the church members responsible for pastoral care the above questions, I wasn’t surprised. However, said person is a close friend of my wife and I and my wife had confided in her many of our issues and concerns. So, on being asked these questions, said friend deflected and advised against coming to see me. I don’t know what exactly was said.

I understand the motives of said friend, but I think she advised wrongly.

I am fairly sure that if the pastor had followed his gut instinct and come to see me I would have shared my loss of faith with him. OR at the very least implied I was having difficulty with my faith.

Right up until we moved away, I pondered on visiting him to talk over my situation. I think he would have been a good ear, but I am not completely convinced he would have understood my reasoning. I also think there is a chance he may have tried to convince me I was wrong, which at that time, would have been the wrong thing to do. So I did the English thing and did nothing.

This video was shown in the Church service yesterday

Yesterday’s Sermon used the following video as an introduction and link to the sermon.

Its a clever video and makes its point in a slick and impressive way. I am sure if I still called myself a Christian I would have enjoyed it. Several of the congregation around me seemed to enjoy it, judging by their positive murmurings and head nodding when it ended.

However.

All the way through the first half, my mind was screaming out “this is not how I think, this is not how atheists think, this is a straw man built on what misguided Christians think the godless live”.

So I switched off. I can’t remember what the sermon was about now.

So today I find myself faced with the first disappointment of the paster of our new church.

Two Things that Happened last Sunday

There are two things that happened in church last Sunday that I would never have expected to happen in our last church and I think are a credit to our new church and the Pastor in residence.

Leavers being blessed

The first thing was during the service the Pastor mentioned by name a couple who had felt that they wanted to try another church in the town. The pastor mentioned this and said they’d been at tenders for about 7 years and that while he was sure they church would miss them, he wished them well and wanted to make it clear that they were welcome back any time they wished.

I think it is a good thing that a couple have a respect for their Pastor to the point that they can have that conversation with him and it shows grace that the Pastor points it out in church and the sensitive way he did and makes it clear that while he does not want them to leave he wishes them all the best.

This is something that I simply can’t imagine happening in our last church. I have seen many people leave the church in the past few years and they all disappeared silently.

An open atheist being made welcome

During coffee after the service my wife and I got talking to a couple of ladies of similar age to us. They both have children, some of which are similar in age to our daughter. One of the ladies is a Christian and had just come back from a Christian weekend away and was positively buzzing with enthusiasm as a result. The other lady was from a distinctly non-Christian household, her story of involvement with the church is that some of her children started coming to the Friday evening youth club at the church and eventually two of her daughters expressed a desire to attend church on Sundays. She and her husband agreed they would let them make their own decision and so she brings them to church on a Sunday morning but she sits in the church foyer and does not attend the service herself.

She admitted that at first it was awkward but the church lets her do that and is fine with it. She was quite happy and unembarrassed to profess her lack of faith and her Christian friend didn’t appear to let it affect the friendship that has obviously developed, although there was mention of some conversion attempts but I got the distinct impression it was not overt and was not a big issue.

I admire both the church’s stance in making this possible and in the lady in questions honesty in being in that situation. There was a level of acceptance and integrity there that I simply could not imagine occurring in my last church. There are definitely people at my last church that are capable of enabling this sort of situation to happen, however I just can’t see the church leadership making it a comfortable situation.

At one point in the conversation I told the lady that she was being more honest by expressing her position and sitting outside the service than someone who attended the service and pretended. It was meant as a compliment to her, but I was fully aware of the hypocrisy within myself as I was saying it. It was a challenge to me to be more honest about my state of faith, especially with those I love.

So what next for me?

Well, I don’t know yet. All I know is that at some point I’m going to have to stop avoiding the inevitable. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to say it straight because I am afraid of the hurt and upset that will result. I would feel immensely guilty about being the cause of that.

Sometime soon there is going to be a conversation about becoming members of the church. I know that when this church writes to our last church that there will be a glowing reference of us as a couple and a family. However, I don’t think its fair or right for me to make the same profession of faith that I did when we became members of our last church. To do so would be to lie and be dishonest.

I think what I will do is tell my wife that I am not sure I can make that same declaration and see what the conversation leads to. She knows I am having doubts as we have touched on the subject before (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/).

Settling into a New Location

New Location Summary

At the end of August the family limey relocated to a seaside location. We’ve settled into our new home quickly and we are beginning to get our bearings in the town and meet some new people. We’ve moved to a small town, smaller than the town we used to live in, however, due to its location it’s a very popular holiday destination and there are two large static caravan parks north and south of the town; as a result the population swells considerably in the summer months. This brings its own benefits and challenges. For starters, it means that it’s a much more dynamic town and there is no shortage of visitor attractions in the area. There are also many events and activities in the town which are geared towards family’s and children. All of this is very good, because we’ve moved from a very nondescript magnolia town which was less than an hour’s train journey from centralLondon. Most residents wereLondoncommuters and people went out of town for their activities because there was no shortage of similar towns all a ten minute drive away. Now we can walk or cycle to many places, including the sea front.

We’ve moved into a brand new house, which is great in many respects, but also brings its own challenges and issues. For the next few months at least, we’re going to have to tolerate new houses being built 20 meters from our front door and all the dust and noise that comes with it. However, look out the back and we can see cows in fields and scrub land, which I hope never gets built on.

In short, we love our new location, there will be a time of settling required but we are already very happy here and are glad we’ve made the jump. I am currently working from home and my travel intoLondonwill be limited because the journey is not a practical daily commute.

Our phone and internet provider has been astonishingly slow in getting us connected and so I feel very out of touch with the blogs I follow and the other on-line communities I like to keep in touch with; which means when I do eventually get connected I’ll be overwhelmed with the volume I need to catch up on.

The New Church

As was previously predicted, the whole family has attended the Baptist church in our new town. It’s the longest run of consecutive services I’ve been to in a while. For the moment I am okay with going to church again so I we’ll see how things proceed.

Our last pastor is best described as intense and immature. He had a very black and white attitude to many things and his delivery was always shouty enthusiastic rather than considered intellect. In the last few years we’ve seen many mature Christians leave the church and the vast majority of the newcomers are new Christians or literal Christians. While I had much in common with our last pastor, including a love of cars and a very childish sense of humour, I had little respect for the way he ran the church.

The pastor of this new church is very different and carries a maturity that is immediately attractive; being ten years older than our last pastor probably helps with this. The pastor’s wife is actively involved the children’s work and when I’ve seen them both at the front doing a sketch together they were genuinely entertaining and very likeable. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Pastor’s wife so visibly involved in the ministry of the church.

The church itself has an older demographic than we are used to, and this is most obvious in the worship. The only musician is an elderly lady who plays the organ, a very lovely pipe organ that dominates the front of the church. Its quite surprising to see one in a building so small. In a way it reminds me of my Grandparents old Brethren Chapel

That’s not to say that all the worship is dowdy hymns though. There are many popular chorus’s sung and they are accompanied by a CD soundtrack. Its sounds immensely corny but its actually works quite well.

So far we’ve already managed to get a lunch invite to the Manse to get to know the Pastor and his family a little better. We had a lovely lunch and chat after wards. I can see that we’ll be getting to know them much better over the years.

Cause to Laugh and Chuckle

The biggest surprise came when I visited the local camera club in our second week here, only to find that the Pastor himself is a member. So it looks like I will be getting to know the Pastor on a social level regardless of whatever happens at church. This could be interesting; at least it gives the chance to have serious conversations casually so it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Nothing has changed, yet.

There is more that I want to say about the church but that demands its own blog post. What do need to acknowledge and clarify is that being happier with this church changes nothing in my state of belief; I am still an atheist. What will change is that I’ll no longer be able to hide behind our previous excuse of not being happy in the church. At some point I’ll have to stop wishing for a happy status quo and man up to the challenges that will come in answering questions on my spirituality. I don’t ever see myself professing faith again, so the issue of needing to tell the truth but not wanting to cause hurt and upset is still the big thing that is bubbling away in the back of my mind.

We Said goodbye to our Church on Sunday

This Sunday just gone, was the last time we attended a service at the Church that we’ve called home for the past 14 years.

Our pastor was on holiday so he wasn’t around, but I did get the chance to shake his hand and say farewell and best wishes the week before.

This means that, having not attended Church for several months, I have been the last two Sundays.

There are many dear friends who attend our former Church, most of whom know of and even share our concerns with the current leadership. Some know about the various events over the past couple of years that have upset either my wife or myself.

It is a little sad to be leaving under less than happy circumstances, but the move away is not at all related to the situation at church, it is a personal choice that will bring a very different quality of life to us and its for that reason we are moving. If everything at church was perfect, we’d still be moving, and it would be a more emotional wrench.

We are still leaving some very dear friends behind though. Friends who welcomed us to the church all those years ago and friends we’ve made a long the way. In those years I’ve seen people come to the church and I’ve seen people leave. Some have moved away, after many years of service, many more than the 14 years we’ve been around. Some have left the church because they’ve had enough.

Our last service was nothing special, with the pastor being away a church member preached. He’s a nice enough and genuine person but he’s not especially great at preaching. He doesn’t engage in his delivery and I don’t find him intellectually stimulating either. Some people don’t go when he preaches for those reasons.

Since we have dear friends in the church and those dear friends know how much my wife and I have committed to the church over the years, there was no way we were going to get away without it being made known to the rest of the church. So near the beginning of the service we were called to the front and interviewed about our move away. We were okay with this, though we would also have been happy to slip away unannounced. We’ve already arranged for many of our close friends to come and bid us farewell on our last night here in a local drinking establishment, so a farewell at the front of our home church is merely a formality.

However, that all being said, I had mentally prepared a small speech covering some of the things I wanted to say as a thank you to those who have been an extended family to us over the years. Unfortunately, the gentleman who was leading the service is a new joiner, an enthusiastic South African who is a biblical literalist and has his own way of doing things; he has also been the source of some of my wife’s upset over the past year. On his list of accomplishments seems to be the utter demise of the church music group. As a result, the farewell interview was a couple of obvious questions like, when do you move? are you packed? and where do you move? He didn’t probe to ask how long we’d been at our church or what we’d be doing church wise after we’d moved. Things we would also expect to be asked.

So the questions halted awkwardly and then we were prayed for. One of those praying for us is possibly the best friend we have at the church. A wonderful lady who has seen her own share of hurt, not just from this church, but from other churches too; gentleness, kindness and love simply ooze from her pores and we’ll miss seeing her on a regular basis. So I smiled knowingly when she made a point of listing all the things we’ve been involved with in the church over the years during her prayer of thanks for us.

I didn’t get to say my piece to the church, I’m a disappointed about that, but I’ll get over it. I have no idea, if we’ll ever set foot in it again. We may do, but we’ve currently no plans at all to return to this town, so I can’t say for certain.

We’ve waved goodbye to the church we gave much to and which supported us. We’ve waved goodbye to the frustrations and upsets too, hopefully they’ll not return to bother us again.

This week is now a week of looking forward, on Wednesday my wife takes our daughter to her parent’s house to stay for a few nights while we finish up the packing and on Friday we move to a brand new house in a town by the sea and a new life beckons.

I am sure it won’t be perfect and I am sure there will be challenges ahead, but there will also be good things to look forward too. For the last 14 years we’ve lived in a town we moved to because of my work and we’ve not been close to family for any of that time. From Friday, we’ll be a mile away from my wife’s parents, since they beat us to the hop and moved to the same seaside town a month before we did; after we announced our intent to move. We’ll also be less than an hour from my Aunts and cousins. This is a move for us. My wife is very excited about the move and simply can’t wait to settle in and start making friends with our new neighbours. I am a little more reserved about it as I’m not yet sure how this will affect my work so I’m taking it in my stride, enjoying the ride and will deal with whatever comes our way.

No doubt there will be a report from our new home Church and I expect I’ll be going to church more regularly from next week. I’m sure I will cope.