Dear blog readers!
Sunday mornings it's church time for us. For Daniel and me it's a little more tricky than for most Christian couples. It's already challenging that Daniel is Catholic and that I am a German Baptist, but there is even more. Daniel is part of the Focolare Movement and I am also a Theologian. A lot of different elements that make it tricky to find the "right" church. We can't just go to one church and be both happy with it. Our confessions are too different for that to work.
For Daniel it was quite easy to find his Catholic church. Well, he just went to the one closest by. This is St. Kevin and it's just a 12 minute walk by foot. It's a pretty big church and they even have a school.
In Germany the church tax was taken automatically from your monthly income. Here in the States Daniel gets small, colorful envelops each month and has to fill them and bring them to church each Sunday. Usually it's one envelope for each week and then additional offerings - as for missions etc. On the photo you see the December envelopes. He doesn't have to give 10 % but just half of it and we are grateful, because like this we can give the other half to my church.
Daniel goes to mass every Sunday and can decide if he wants to go at 8am, 10am or 12pm. Very convenient. ;-) I'd say during mass he has the sacraments, during the week he has his small group from the Focolare Movement. He meets with other men that are in the same life phase as Daniel and has fellowship and discipleship.
For me finding a church home was more difficult than Daniel's path. I was looking for a church that gives me theologically what I need and also in the fellowship aspect. I also wanted that the church is in my neighborhood, that they accept female ordination and that they aren't too conservative (in a legalistic way).
Those are things that shouldn't be too difficult to find in a city like NYC - you'd think! I guess if you are living in Manhattan it's easy to meet those aims, but in Bayside / Queens not. I really would have liked to go into a Baptist Church, as I am a German Baptist. But it seemed that the surrounding Baptist Churches were not open to female ordination or female leadership in general (just for Sunday school for kids). Don't get me wrong - I wasn't planning on starting to go to a new church and right away conquer the pulpit for me. I just wanted to find a spiritual home and family where I know there is room to grow and that I'd be allowed to preach when the time is right. Having to have a certain gender to be allowed to do it isn't what I was looking for. No thanks, no discrimination for me. Well, but both churches I visited in my closer neighborhood were pretty male dominated and I didn't see a place for me there.
The first church was a Pentecostal Church in disguise. On the outside they said they are a "Christian Church" which made me think they are part of the denomination Christian Churches. Well, but after five minutes in the service I knew that I am in a Pentecostal church. Although I knew Pentecostal services from Germany and Argentina, I was quite overwhelmed because it felt so chaotic. On the other hand with the sermon I was underwhelmed, because the preacher said the same thing for over an hour that he could have said in one sentence. It was a challenge for me as a German that likes order and as a theologian that likes to dig deep in bible texts. After the service I spoke with some people and they seemed very nice, but is wasn't the place for me.
My second try was a Baptist Church and right at the beginning of the service I started crying when I saw the sheet of paper for the deacon election of that church. It had an alphabetical list of all the male members and out of those the congregation could choose. The preacher was a lay preacher and his sermon stayed on the surface of the bible text and just used male "heroes" for his examples, although there were more women sitting in that church than men.
All of that was very emotional for me and I told myself that I don't want to visit churches when I am not sure that they also accept female ordination. Why should I give me this pain? A service should encourage me and not put me down in my role as a woman.
Back home I researched the Internet for churches that have male and female leadership. A good mixture and not too much of just one gender. But those kind of churches were just not near me but at least one hour away with public transportation and that would just be my emergency plan. After searching and searching and not finding something close by I felt like giving up. I really felt desperate, because I knew that finding a good church would be the key to making friends and starting to develop a network and eventually start feeling at home in this country.
Daniel had compassion on me and helped me. He searched for "christian churches in Queens" in google and found a super long alphabetical list with all the churches in the area. We went to all their websites and checked how they stand towards female ordination. Just a few churches we kept, but none of them felt like "the one". When we arrived at the letter "s" there was the Sycomore Church. The way their website was written I had the feeling that they would be more open for female leadership and so I called the pastor and just asked him on the phone how they stand towards it. The church is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. This denomination has not yet female ordination, but the leadership team from the Sycomore is open to it and that was enough for me in that moment. I decided to go there and make up my mind by experiencing their church life.
Well and this I did for the past four months. I like to go there and I like the people and I know that there is space to grow when the time is right.
The Sycomore is a house church. This means they don't have a church building, but meet in the pastor's apartment. The pastor, his wife and their daughters live in this house on the lower level and I really wonder how they can deal with having 40 people at their place every Sunday.
It has to be a calling because if not, they wouldn't have the passion they have every week.
Compared to the other church buildings I've shown you this building is the ugliest (there is no other way to put it). But the people that go there are quite lovely! I walk 15 minutes (but with all the snow it takes longer at the moment).
Everybody has to put their shoes into the entrance of the house. For Germans that's the most normal thing to do, as 95 % of German houses are shoe free houses (just my personal guess, maybe it's even 99%). But for Americans it's pretty special, as in a lot of other places people leave their shoes on - even when it's wet outside! When I visit a person and bring my slippers (or "house shoes" as we Germans call them), people are usually very surprised. ;-)
The Sycomore are like 99% Asian and most of the Sundays I am the one with the lightest hair and only blue eyes (haha because Daniel has black hair and brown eyes as well). But I don't feel the difference, as there is no language barrier. Everybody speaks English and almost everybody grew up in the States and is very Americanized. It seems that most of the members have Korean background and a few Chinese.
The service starts at 11am and we start by singing songs. You can see that on the photo below. After the singing, there's the sermon and some information. Usually the service is until 1pm. After that we have lunch all together and it's time for fellowship.
This is how Daniel and I structure our Sundays:
I go to the Sycomore at 11am and Daniel to mass at 12pm. After mass he walks over to the Sycomore and we have lunch and fellowship with all the others. Once a month Daniel goes to mass earlier and comes to the Sycomore for the whole service. Also when there are other events like the Christmas party, we go there together as a couple, because it's important for me that Daniel meets the people and they meet him.
It's not important for him that I come to mass. However he'd like that I participate if there are events from the Focolare Movement. Until now there wasn't so many, but we try to participate on the things that are important for each other.
Since I am going to the Sycoomore I don't feel so isolated anymore. Sometimes I meet with other women for coffee and can get to know them a little bit better. I also started going to a small group (like a bible study group) during the week to engage more with the people. The people are very nice and help when we need a car ride to Aldi, Ikea or if it's too cold to walk to church. I really like that it's just 40 people and that I can learn all the names and get to know many more personally.
So many reasons to be thankful! I definitely think it was worth it to search for the right church for me.
I wish all of you a good week!
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