The Search for Church

We haven’t really had to do this for 25 years! Ever since I left Spurgeon’s College where I trained as a Baptist minister, and then Ruth subsequently completed her training for ministry at both London Bible College and Regents Park College, Oxford, the process of becoming a part of a church for us has been well laid out, defined, a procedure, as together church community and minister(s) sense if their future lies together.

But now it is very different. We are in a totally different culture and not in role as Baptist ministers. And it is not easy. We are experiencing our fifth church wondering if it is the community through which we can love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, celebrate and be celebrated. It doesn’t help that we are obviously different. There is seemingly a reticence for many to approach the stranger and engage them in those important moments of initial contact. There is seemingly a reticence to respond engagingly to any approach that we might make.

In our recent training we were taught that where are able we are here in India as guests to bless / encourage the church, not to change it. Yet in looking for a church there are both theological and ecclesiological filters that I (James) certainly carry with me and through which I exercise some critical faculties. In the community worship of the gathered church I expect worship that involves all those gathered and is not a spectator event focussing on those “leading”. I will hope that there is confession, intercession, scripture reading with teaching that emanates from a serious engagement with scripture (not just a proof text that supports what the preacher has decided that he wants to say). And yes it will be “he”. This is another hurdle to overcome – the permitted role (or lack thereof) of women in the church. For most it is a given that women are definitely not allowed to lead, teach or preach.

As the search now becomes extended, it also becomes more painful as we greatly value belonging to a church community and playing our part within it. Reflecting on this (in a somewhat uneasy conversation) with the wife of one of the pastors in the latest church we are trying, she asked “What are your expectations?” That’s a question that has rattled around ever since she asked it. My expectations are largely those I have laid out in the paragraph above and yet they are of course expectations based on my past experience of a very different setting. Is it fair / kind / realistic to others and myself to let those expectations dominate or can I find another way to approach this search for church? That question remains unanswered but maybe the question raised by a woman in a church is teaching me something that might give a clue as to the way forward.

Let’s hope so!