Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 1

I wanted to send this post out last week on May 1. That was the day I celebrated 15 years of being saved by Grace! I accepted Christ on May 1, 1999 at Coleman Coliseum during a Franklin Graham Crusade. I was raised in a Christian home and went to church my entire life, but had never understood the Gospel and why I needed it. As you can see, it's not May 1st any more... life happens, you know? Babies get sick. Moms get double pneumonia. Priorities, man. So... here's this post... Part 1... a week late.

I never would have guessed that I'd become a baptist - much less a member of the largest baptist congregation in Tuscaloosa. But, I did, and the journey there is quite a story if you ask me. It's taken a long time for me to be ready to write this - we've been at First Baptist for two and a half years. There was a lot of heartache in deciding to move back into a traditional church setting, but I can say with confidence that we did the right thing.

But, as with most stories, it's not enough to just tell you the end. We need to start at the beginning. The VERY beginning.

My mom was a member of Hargrove United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa for many years before I was born. She was a single mother in the 1970's at a time when many churches did not support divorced single mothers. But, Hargrove was different. They took her in, cared for her, cared for my sister, and showed my mom the love of Christ in a very real and tangible way. She tells stories of leaving church on a Sunday morning to find groceries sitting in the backseat of her car. She found friendships in the choir. And, one year, some of her friends from church pitched in to buy her a new guitar. So, when my dad came along in 1983, there was no question that they would be married there and attend the church together.

I was born in 1985 and remember going to Hargrove as a very little girl. But, sometime in the early 1990's, my parents made the difficult decision to move our family to Wesley Chapel U.M.C. in Ralph. It was much closer to our house than Hargrove and was involved in our local community. It was a small church that became even smaller when the majority of members left after the church leaders invited a black choir to sing at a revival (sad, but true). For most of the years we were at Wesley Chapel, there were literally less than 15 members of the church. I was the only child, aside from a young boy who was born far too premature and only alive because of life support. My Sunday School teacher, Roena, was a precious lady who tried and tried to teach me the Bible. But I didn't really want to listen or pay attention. The United Methodist Church allows for pastors to be transferred annually (or however often the church decides), so I remember going through at least three pastors at Wesley Chapel - and they all served our church as well as another local church. The last pastor to come had two children, but they went to Sunday School at the other church. So, I was it - the only kid. And I wasn't really learning anything and, honestly, I didn't really like going.

So in 1999, we moved our membership back to Hargrove. My parents wanted me to be a part of a youth group and to learn more about the whole reason we were going to church. At first I was excited, then I was very, very nervous. I really hadn't ever gone to church with other kids and none of the kids at Hargrove went to my school. And, I had very little Bible knowledge. One of the first Sunday School lessons I remember at Hargrove was about Abraham. I had NO IDEA who Abraham was!!! Can you believe that? I went to church my entire life and in the 8th grade, I didn't know who ABRAHAM was!!! I realized quickly there was a lot I had to learn. On May 1, 1999, I gave my life to Christ during the last day of a Franklin Graham Festival here in Tuscaloosa. I was confirmed into the Methodist Church that spring and in the summer of 2001, I was baptised.

Spending a few years' time in a church will allow you to get good and rooted in the church drama. And Hargrove, like most churches, was full of drama. There were rumors, committees, secret meetings, finger-pointing, family feuds, and backstabbing. And somehow, as a teenager, I often got thrust into the middle of it. A small church leaves little room for anyone to hide. The last straw for me was the hiring of a youth director who, from what I remember, was hired without the knowledge of certain people (myself included) on the search committee. I was OVER IT. Off and on during high school, I would attend First Baptist with my friend Kaley, who was friends with the pastor's kids. While I never really got involved there, I did get to know the McKee's and fell in love with them as my friends' parents. (This would play a major role in my life nearly ten years later...)

After my high school graduation in 2003, I started working at Gospel Supply House (a Christian Bookstore). I had pretty much stopped going to church, but God used GSH as a place for me to really learn and grow. I met people from different denominations with different church backgrounds. I read books by authors who taught the gospel better than I'd ever heard before. I listened to music that spoke to my spirit. And I found a thirst for God I just hadn't experienced before. I was also leading worship at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa on Sunday evenings and that's where I really found myself again. Oh yeah! (I feel the need to edit out the "Oh yeah!" but... I think I'll leave it...)

There was also rumblings of a new church in the north Tuscaloosa area called The Innerchange. It was part of the U.M.C. Conference, but it was unlike any other Methodist church I'd ever heard of. They met in a warehouse. They wore jeans - even the pastor. They had a worship band instead of a choir. They were a bunch of regular people trying to reach an unloved community. They were going against the grain to meet the needs of people who had been cast out, left out, or shut out of the traditional church. So I started riding up there on Sundays with a few friends and, quickly, the Innerchange became my new church home. I learned a lot there about serving God and what it really meant to believe and live out Scripture. And... I also dated the worship pastor and that ended in disaster and that's really all you need to know about that part of the story!!! :) I kept going even after he and I split up, but I never really felt at home at the Innerchange - I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, never fully a part of what was going on. Oh yeah, I also got a tattoo during this time... [insert regretful face....]

So I kept wandering.

In the summer of 2005, I moved to Montevallo. This is where my life took a bunch of crazy turns so hold on to your seats...

Summer/Fall 2005 - Moved to Montevallo to attend the University of Montevallo. Started going to Shelby Crossings (an off-shoot of The Church at Brook Hills) and joined the church. They were "technically" Baptist but I didn't have to get baptized to join so I'm not really sure where their doctrine lies or really what my membership status actually was, since I was a transient college student. They were another non-traditional church - met in a warehouse, wore jeans, worship band, etc. Brian Fulton was our college pastor and really he wasn't that much older than us! So it was more like our leader-friend and his fiancee guiding us through this thing we called college life. We had amazing small group meetings and, again, I grew a lot. I started dating a guy who went to Church of the Highlands... yet another non-denominational church (and not QUITE as big as it is now!).

Spring/Summer 2006 - I started going to Church of the Highlands more than Shelby Crossings. I LOVED Pastor Chris. I loved that there was more structure and more discipline. And I loved that there was a genuine heart of worship each Sunday. We attended the Pelham campus mostly, but we stayed on the outskirts. We didn't really get fully involved in anything - not for lack of wanting to, but the distance and scheduling of things just didn't always work out.

Fall 2006 - I hated Montevallo. I hated college. So I opted to take a semester (or two) off, but I stayed in Montevallo because I had a full-time job. Shortly after classes started that semester, I was called home because my dad was sick. And on September 21, he died suddenly. Needless to say, my life changed drastically. I moved home immediately to help my mom and started working two jobs. But I continued going to Highlands.

Easter 2007 - My time at Highlands is marked not only by my father's death, but also by the Holy Spirit. I had never been in a church that was very Spirit-focused, but Highlands was/is. It was, at the time, the most charismatic church I'd ever attended. And on Easter 2007, I very clearly remember crying the entire way home from the service because I knew the Spirit was telling me to do something I didn't want to do. He was telling me to break up with my boyfriend. I didn't want to, I loved him. But that day I knew we were not meant to be together. I had changed so much after my dad died and we had grown apart. I remember telling God "no" that day - very loudly. And... well... you really just shouldn't tell God "no". I think we went through a few break-ups, but none of them lasted more than a few days. I just couldn't let go.

Summer/Fall 2007 - After living back at home and working two jobs and time to just breathe, I decided I wanted to go back to college and finish my degree in elementary education. I applied to UM and was granted readmission.

December 2007 - I learned that God will have His way, no matter what you try to do to stop it.

January 2008 - I moved back to Montevallo and broke up with my boyfriend - on the same day. I had no idea what I was going to do. It wasn't a pretty break up. We couldn't be friends. I couldn't be friends with our friends. I couldn't go to Highlands anymore. I had no one. Nothing.

This was a particularly difficult time in my life. I was so out of place - 22 and back in school, living on campus for the first time, single, confused, alone.

And that's where we'll stop for today... don't feel too bad for me. 28-year-old Katie promises that 22-year-old Katie made it through just fine. You'll find out more in Part 2!

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