It's no secret to many of my friends that I have nursed a discontent with the institution of the Christian church in North America for several years now. There are a variety of reasons for my feelings: use of funds for the local body and their own comfort, lack of identity or vision, political alignment concerning certain issues, disinterest in the rest of the world, poor study and teaching of the Bible, a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible's role, and a general slacker attitude towards Christ's call on each of our lives.
It shouldn't surprise anyone then that it took some time for Amber and I to actually look for a church in our new city. I could always make the excuse that we were out of town every other week visiting family in Red Deer or Edmonton. But really, I wasn't in a hurry to be disappointed. The desire to be part of a church was there, but not any of the ones I have visited in the past (no offense intended).
Finally, at the end of January, after not leaving the city for a few weeks, we decided it was time to check out one of the emergent church listed on a website: New Hope Church. Amber found it online and told me that some recent sermons preached had taken a look at how God's messages could be found in Bob Dylan, Feist, and Coldplay's music.
New Hope has had a strange effect on me. Those weeks I can't attend, I am very disappointed that I have to miss the service. This has never been an issue for me, in fact taking a break from church has been great! Now, I can't wait for each service to come around and missing church is avoided if at all possible - even last weekend when Amber had the car on a sisters' weekend, I secured a ride with a friend from church. If they didn't work out, I was looking at taking a cab ($45 round trip) or public transit (just over 2.5 hours round trip).
So, what is it that's is so bewitching about this church?
- They meet in a community centre which means they don't have a lot of the overhead costs or the preoccupation of having their own building. It also doesn't sit empty all week.
- Teaching is a serious part of their purpose. I was invited after just a few weeks to attend a 7 week course outlining some of the core teachings of the church and how those teachings influence how church is done at New Hope specifically.
- The sermons are relevant, poetic, honest, and God seeking (meaning there is some mystery left to Him rather than pure explanation). John van Sloten is the senior pastor there and so far I've been transfixed by the messages on finding God in The Dark Knight (the first service we went to) and Photography (a three week series), on the Seven Deadly Relational Sins, and a service about the church's current mission project in Malawi. All the sermons are available to listen to or watch on their website.
- It's small. Just 200 or so attendees which makes it easier to get to know the people. A few students from my school attend too.
- Their focus on missions as a local church is palpable. They are community focused and now through initiatives in the congregation they are sending a group of four people to Malawi to establish a relationship with a village down there that we can cooperate with.
- The music worship is not overproduced, but it's also very focused on God and well rehearsed. There is also a strong emphasis on art and expression. Because the congregation was born out of a conservative and liturgical denomination, there isn't a lot of hand raising and dancing (very little in fact), let alone swaying to the music. I'm quite fine with that because I don't raise my hands much either. I sway though.
- The kids programs are great too. For Acadia's class(<3),>
- Coffee, tea, bagels, and tables at the back of the gym keep it all informal. They also have several efforts for basic environmental responsibility. There are film nights, little cafés where people can play tunes, and a general atmosphere of community and a love of beauty.
I was genuinely surprised that the church espoused a strong Calvinist theology, in fact the denomination (Christian Reformed Church) to which it is aligned is based almost entirely on John Calvin's theology. While I have a deep respect for all reformers, including Calvin, the Calvinist/Augustinian doctrine of predestination* is still very sour to me. What is refreshing however is that this church does not teach this aspect of Calvinism (from what I understand anyhow), but rather the aspect that because God is the creator of all things, goodness can be found in all things, even though they are mere shadows of what they once were intended to be.
Before, I was discontent with several aspects of each church I attended and consequently allowed myself a certain level of inactivity because I judged the church inadequate or misguided. Now that I don't have this excuse, I must accept full participation. I look forward to it.
*The doctrine of predestination teaches that God chooses some to be saved and some not to be saved. While the basis for it is beautiful - that it is the good that God created within us that responds to God's invitation to be saved and therefore all God's doing - the other side is quite ugly that God intends for many to be lost and that it isn't their choice but His. Bring on the comments.