Safe Church

I feel extremely fortunate to have found a church community that feels safe to me. I know that this is a big struggle for people who have left their church or plan on leaving. What next? Is there a place for me? We worry about this as we exit. This is why back in Illinois we created our own place. Most of the churches in our area were evangelical or catholic. We didn’t feel like there were any safe churches, but we still wanted that type of community to be a part of our lives, so we formed it, and invited people to join us.

It was wonderful, it was beautiful, it was downright fun. But it was also hard, stressful, and tiring. Without a denomination behind us we weren’t getting paid. In fact it cost us quite a bit to host Mosaic every week. Soon we had a baby and it made everything harder. We knew we couldn’t keep doing it. It was especially hard for me, an introverted, stressed out, new mom. I just couldn’t handle the amount of work it created in our home.

When we decided to pack up and move across the country we also decided to end Mosaic. It was a hard choice but it was clearly the right one for my sanity. It also happened to work out that a large core of the people attending were also moving away to other parts of the country at the same time.

When we moved to Portland we took a break from church for a while. I had zero desire to go within 1000 feet of a church and was again questioning everything I thought I knew about God. I was starting to doubt God was real. The only overtly spiritual element to my life was occasionally listening though an entire Gungor album on a long drive. Those solo worshipful experinces kept this tiny spiritual lifeline alive for me. I didn’t know who God was, or what they did, but I was pretty sure there was something more still out there.

Eventually we decided to actually look around for a church. We found a few we were interested in and visited. Those visits were hard. It took a lot of courage to go though those doors. We visited a UCC church and the people there were so kind, but we knew before the service even ended it wasn’t for us. We visited another church that met in a bar, ok thats kind of progressive, but it really wasn’t anything different from any other evangelical church besides the location.

Two churches and I was done. I just couldn’t do it. The one in the bar was trying to recruit me for ministry after only being there for 20 minutes, ughh… I was not ready for that.

I gave up. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to find a church where I felt safe. I still had my car rides with my Gungor albums, the only “Christian” music I could stomach anymore. That was enough “church” for me.

Then one day, 3 years after we moved to Portland, on a typical trip to the grocery store I was stuck in traffic and looked out the window of the car to see a sign that read “Sellwood Faith Community.” I wrote before about how I went home and read the whole blog that night.

I wanted to visit right away. I was too excited to wait long! The fact that they met in a house and not a church was huge to me. By this point in my life I had started having crippling anxiety attacks. It got so bad that a few months later I had to leave my job and get in therapy. It was a really hard time for me and my family. Going into a church building was too much, if this community had met in a traditional looking church I wouldn’t have gone. So for me, a huge element of the church being safe was the fact that it was a house church.

They also met over dinner and had a real group discussion (the bar church claimed to be discussion based but, disappointingly, was not). This was also big for me. I was not ready to sit down and be preached at. I had done that before, I was trained to preach myself. I’m not much into preaching anymore. Another element of safety for me was the lack of preaching.

A factor that surprised me was how wonderful it has been having a female pastor. I wasn’t specifically looking for that, and it didn’t seem important at first. Now I feel like having a female pastor has allowed me to feel more like I matter. I don’t feel like she is an authority figure trying to reign over my life, which is how I so often felt with all the male pastors from my past. I don’t think every male pastor is like that, but for me, a female pastor has helped SFC feel like safe space.

I didn’t walk into SFC and have this glorious moment where I knew I was at home. I walked in and had a panic attack. I came back and had another panic attack. Some weeks I had to work super hard to not have to run out the door. I felt for sure these people were judging me, or would turn on me at some point. At first I was worried about every word I said. Would I say something too conservative? Did I doubt too much? Was it ok that I was super unsure about God these days?  Was it Ok that I wasn’t a democrat? Would they think we were insane for being Unschoolers?  I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, or thinking the wrong thing. “Wrong” thinking was what led to me leaving my home church.

It was weird being part of community that held so many opposite beliefs of our old community. It has also been strange being in a space where differing thoughts are valued. It has been extremely difficult to learn to trust a religious community again, and I can’t say I even do trust them 100% yet. But I’m getting there. They have been gracious, welcoming, and kind. They are loving towards my son, who might not receive the same treatment in a typical church due to some of his developmental and behavioral characteristics. This is obviously extremely important to me.

I’ve heard people say things like “Trust God” or “Trust the Universe” when it comes to finding the right church, the right space for my business, the right friends, or even the right employees. Its been true in this case. Sellwood Faith Community (a United Methodist Church) came into my life at the exact moment I needed it and I met this community of wonderful, passionate, loving, patient people. This is my safe church. I can’t tell you a single denomination that is “safe” becuase safe is going to look different for you. You might need pews or a particular style of worship or some other thing. I would say at minimum a safe church is a place that doesn’t ban any questions or concerns. It is a place that accepts you and all your baggage and all your doubts and struggles. What that looks like in practice is going to be different in each community. I found a safe church, and I think safe churches are becoming increasingly common across the country. Keep an eye out and you might find one.

Thank you Eilidh, Jeff, Paige, Kat, Micheal, Austin, Maddy, Chris, Travis, Jeff, Amanda, Colleen, Aric, Stacia, Curran, Avery, and others that I’m know I’m forgetting. Thank you for accepting us right where we are. You have helped me heal in more ways than I can accurately express. You have succeeded in being a safe place for us and I love all of you.

Sunday Dinner around the Lowery’s dining room table.

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