Hal in Heatherland

Note: This was originally posted to the House Church Discussion List (HCDL) on 9/4/2001.

Dear HCDL,

Consider this a report from the front. After 25 years happily living in the
safety of the Salem home churches, the Miller family is under deep cover in
Northern Virginia.

We've used the opportunity (three weeks, thus far) to explore the church
around here just a bit. After 25 years with one group, you risk growing just
a little out of touch.

I guess I should also add that we're not "church shopping" in NVA. We're
looking for the believers in Jesus. We're pretty sure that they're here, but
we haven't been able to find them through HCDL or our other contacts. So
we're checking out the Religious Clubs (apologies to Wayne J.) in hopes of
locating them there.

To me, none of these Clubs we're visiting have much future for us. But I'm
sure that the believers in Jesus are gathering somewhere around here and we
need to find out where that is.

*** In Heatherland
Maybe I've been warped by such a long happy life in New England, but the
first thing that's been plain to us is that the Christians are everywhere
around here.

It's been like the experience Heather W. reported to us all some months ago.
We've come to a new area with our thighs girded for battle. We've expected
that we'll have to make something happen.

And, lo and behold, things are happening everywhere. The believers in Jesus
are all around us, Pretty much everywhere we go (yes, there are dramatic
exceptions) we have found Christians who are sincere in their faith, who
want to build relationship, and (gulp) seem to want to serve us.

I know there are lots of "system" issues that face them (and will face us if
we continue on this path), and we have deliberately avoided any group that
looked "smelled like" spiritual abuse might be happening there. Even so,
I've been pleasantly surprised at how open and "relational" your
run-of-the-mill believer in Jesus has seemed to be.

*** Observations from the Road Trip
So, here are some observations from the first few weeks of our road trip
through Christianity at large. I suppose this is installment #1, since we
plan to follow this path for a few more weeks at least. If it's been a while
since you've checked in with the bigger church out there (it has been for
me!) some of these things might surprise you. Or not.

And these are just scattered observations. I'd love to discuss any or all of
them. They're just what we're seeing out the window as we drive through the
church around here.

* The Clubs have the technology
My only serious contact with the larger church for the last 25 years has
been my mother's Methodist church in Millersburg, OH (read, very bucolic!).
It's pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago when I was growing up. Not
so the churches we've been visiting--they have the technology. There's a ton
of sophistication here. They're:
* Databasing everything from visitors to hot-dish recipes
* On the Worldwide Web with their meeting times, activities, and prayer
requests, and
* Free from songbooks because they're projecting PowerPoint slides on the
walls (my son thinks of them as musical holograms).

* Different groups have _marked_ differences
I had half-expected to meet up with something insipid and undifferentiated
in the larger church. No way. The places we've been have dramatic emphases
that differentiate them from each other. One was thoroughly evangelistic.
Another was highly intellectual and study-driven. Generally, they seem to
make no attempt to be what I would have called "balanced." They seem
comfortable with who they are as groups, even though they might seem like
characters in a Fellini movie (so one-sided you can hardly believe their
realistic). I'm sure when you move outside their public meeting into the
rest of their life, things are better, but my money says that these dramatic
emphases remain, even in their private lives.

* They are conscious of being shards
Even the most doctrinaire people we've met are quite conscious that their
group is just one small piece of the body of Christ in the area. They seem
to have taken to heart Jessop's and Colin's continuing guidance to see your
group as just a part of the something-bigger that God is doing in your area.
We were among a very doctrine-oriented group who, even so, knew themselves
to be among a cloud of witnesses who didn't see things quite their way. That
seemed OK to them. I don't ever remember seeing that the last time I was
outside the bubble, 25 years ago.

* Some of the most traditional are the most participatory
This was a jarring realization, but the most "contemporary" of the groups we
visited was the least participatory. They had a rock group (OK, soft rock;
OK, the drum machine was mixed way low; nonetheless) and all that. But it
was nearly 100% performance oriented. We were clearly the audience for a
production of music, sharing, and instruction that was going on on the
stage. By contrast, one group that had a very strict "order of worship" had
as much participation (admittedly, by a large group) as I've normally seen
in home church. They went out of their way to fill the order with real
people doing and saying real things. Pretty unexpected!

* Time behaves differently in these Clubs
Our home church meetings back in Salem were almost never less than 3-3.5
hours. Yet we went to one group who had a two-hour meeting (by design, not
by accident) and both Miller kids complained bitterly at it's conclusion. It
was TOO LONG! And I found myself agreeing. When you're sitting front-to-back
on benches, time behaves differently than when you're sitting around a table
or in a living room. In those contexts, we always felt that 3 hours was too
short. In the Religious Club, 2 hours is too long!

* No one (yet) has a clue about how to integrate with kids
One of the things I deeply loved about our home church was the way we could
participate together across ages. The Clubs, none of them, have a clue about
this. They either segment the ages or force the kids to pretend they're
adults while the adults do their thing. I hope it isn't all like this,
because convincing people that they can participate in church with children
is very difficult if they've never even had a glimpse of it.

*** But how to connect in?
The next problem we'll face is, of course, a harder one: how to connect in
with the lives of real people. Each place we've been has been more than
willing to pop us into their sequence of events (the bible studies or prayer
meetings or youth groups). But that's not really what we're after. We're
really after finding some believers in Jesus to dine with, sing with, and
pray with.

Right now, we don't really know the answer to this. And, I guess we're not
ready for the answer anyway. The flurry of activity that we're in right now,
trying to rebuild 25 years of the infrastructure of life (where's the
grocery store? do you know a good dentist? what did I do with my socks?) is
still going on. And it probably will be for another month or two.

At that point, we'll have to move to the next stage. For now, though, even
being in Heatherland is refreshing. There are lots of believers in Jesus out
there, and (you know) they seem very willing to pitch in and help out if we
just ask. Knowing that is a substantial comfort.


In Herndon, VA USA


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