Church Shopping in Today’s Day & Age

*When I say “today’s day & age,” man do I feel like I’m dating myself!

Back to the topic at hand. I admit it: I thought this would be much easier than it’s been so far.

Kind of. See, I have this track record with churches in Seattle that isn’t so great.
I started out, at a young age, going to church and also protesting the first Gulf War in 1990. When I was asked, in school, how I could justify going to church and protesting the Gulf War, I wasn’t really able to answer. I just knew in my heart that church + protesting war = the right thing to do. But, I didn’t know how to answer. So, I cut the thing out of the equation that was easiest to do – I cut out church. I didn’t spend close to 40 hours per week with the church folks, whereas I did with my schoolmates. Cutting out church was easier. I felt, from that time till I left Seattle in 2000, that you couldn’t be a progressive AND go to church, in Seattle. There was a dichotomy at work that was interesting and I wasn’t able to figure it out.

Fast forward to after my move to LA and there you have Noelle, wondering about going to church, and then eventually finding Immanuel Presbyterian Church, in Koreatown, close to Downtown LA. A church that really called to me. Where I felt at home. Immanuel did all the things that churches “weren’t supposed to do”: ordained LGBT folks, spoke out about the wrongs happening in our world, encouraged members to ask questions about things and to get involved in the church – both locally and internationally. In the past few years, I’ve felt a little distant from Immanuel, but at the same time, each time I went back on a Sunday, I felt completely HOME.

I always said I wasn’t ever going to move back to Seattle, but in the past few years I knew that things were different. I felt that Seattle had grown up into a city that I could live in. Never mind the closeness to the GodFamily, and my mom. I figured that since the city had grown into a place where I could see myself, perhaps the strangeness of a progressive going to church had changed too. That and the fact that I am now a member of the Board of the PC(USA) led me to vow to find a Presbyterian church in Seattle where I could feel at home too…

So, this is where I found myself on August 21: vowing to visit different Covenant Network and / or More Light Presbyterian Churches. This is where Seattle is a bit strange – the presbytery is pretty conservative, even though the city really is not. I wrote down a list of churches to try, and the list isn’t very long. It includes perhaps 5 churches, I think, in the local area of Seattle. There are some others that are in Western Washington, but not many.

Starting church shopping at the end of summer meant that I probably was going to attend when a pastor wasn’t at church. In that case, perhaps that would be when a congregation would really be welcoming. Or, I could be doing some wishful thinking. So far I’ve met some very nice people, who haven’t really interacted with me at all, past saying “hi” as I left, with one exception. I have tried 4 of the 5 that I wanted to try, and one of those was recommended to me by a dear friend from Immanuel. I was hoping that there would be others people recommended, but nope. None yet.

I am coming to the conclusion that we, as churchgoers, need to be much more welcoming to those that are outside “the fold,” as it were. From the church I went to last Sunday, I got an email that had “FWD:” at the beginning of the subject line (FWD: Welcome to our Church!). Way to be precise with those emails! I just remember at Immanuel, that when there was the welcoming of new people, the visitors were encouraged to stand up and say their name, and where they were from. Then there was some drumming and applause to welcome each person who was brave enough to stand up. When the passing of the peace happened, I know I made a beeline for the visitors to welcome and say hi – and I know others did too. During the passing of the peace at most of the churches, no one really said anything, no real welcome. So, I’ve listened to sermons, and haven’t been inspired by any of them (there is one that I still think on), and left, briefly saying hi to pastors on the way out. When only the regular attendees know where to go for a fellowship hour after the service, perhaps the pastors should stand on the route from the sanctuary to the fellowship hour, instead of funneling people (especially visitors) through the outside doors. I did enjoy the fellowship hour at one of the churches – but the guy I chatted with and I had a connection through a friend. That felt kind of like cheating.

It is hard, while you’re doing a stewardship pitch, to make visitors feel welcome, but there are definitely some ways to make others feel more welcomed. The church where I felt the most welcomed was definitely NOT the biggest. At the same time, that church isn’t necessarily where I want to attend worship. Let’s be honest – I want to go to a church where there are potentially “young adult” men who are single. (I say young adult in quotes, because I don’t view myself as that any longer, but in the eyes of the PC(USA), I sure as heck AM!)

I also feel like that last paragraph is an unspoken truth. No one wants to talk about that, so no one really does.

So far, no physical church community has taken place of the “virtual” church community I have created online. I call on those people regularly for their words, daily in fact. I feel more connected to this group around the country than I do to a church community in one building. It feels strange to say that, but so far, I’m still more connected online than I am in person.
A long while ago, I did speak with my pastor at Immanuel about this, and it seemed like an unusual situation for her to hear about.

If you’re a Teaching Elder reading this, or a Ruling Elder reading this, what do you wish you could know about visitors to your church? How would you reach out to them more? I honestly didn’t think I’d feel like this, as much as I do. But, I do.

So, now I’m here. What happens next?

Playing Peek-A-Boo with Mr Rainier

So, on August 19 I returned to Seattle. I got to drive through Seattle’s summer rush hour traffic to get to my mom’s house and then promptly went to my godfamily’s house. Kimberly & Erik are the ones who decided, a few years ago, to ask me to be one of the two godmothers to their kids. I know, what are they getting themselves into? Regardless, they’re part of the whole “reasons I moved home” list. And their two kids. Those are some good reasons, I promise.

Now that it’s over a month after I moved home, I have had some time to think on the merits of moving home, without a job. It was good to have some time off, but does anyone really need two months off? Wait, don’t answer that. I will be taking another few months off shortly. But that will be in another country, and I will be scuba diving. Or learning to lead you scuba diving. Anyway, it has been a while now, and I’m still trying to find some work that will allow me to travel, but could also still bring in money (so if you have any leads, I’ll take them – I’m not talking ponzi schemes, or random emails from Nigerian princes here!). I’m also relying on what I learned a few years ago when I was just back from Thailand and not working. As hard as that time was, it was VERY valuable. I was forced to accept help (yes, I don’t do it easily – so I say forced!) and it taught me a lesson about my friends. So, all in all it was really rough, and really good. I know it was hard, but I dug deep and learned things. Crazy, I know.

I have gotten to see parts of my family, spend time with friends and also spend time with my mom. I need to bike more, but that’ll happen. I’ll get over the idea of getting damp while cycling. Really, I will.


Since I’ve been back in Seattle, I’ve gone to LA for the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge (flew to LAX, drove to Carmel, ate amazing food, rode 63 of the toughest miles in my life – photo along the route above, drove back to LA, flew home), went to Louisville for a meeting (flew to Louisville, went on two bourbon tours, had a few days of meetings, had amazing food with awesome friends, flew home) and then drove to Leavenworth to spend time with my dad & stepmom. Then I got to take the train back to Seattle (picture below).

This one's a little better. And it shows a relatively clear sky, @alyosha19. #traintravel

So, I’ve been busy, albeit a slacker. I’ve been church-shopping (that’s a whole different blog post!) and getting to know some (more) of my local bars in Seattle.

And now I am going about the business of moving storage items to Spokane to a dear friend’s garage-loft. I’m again grateful for the kindness of friends. I will drive to Spokane tomorrow and see Anna and her family, and then drive to Kennewick to spend time with my grandmother. The pre-3-month-trip preparation starts now.

This involves the mental preparation too. And, the preparation of leaving my godfamily for a few months. That is hard.