August 31, 2019
Sometimes You Can Go Home Again
Several months ago, we reached agreement as a family that it was probably time to leave the church we'd attended for about 20 years. That was no easy decision, as it was the only church the girls had ever known, and Jeff and I had been deeply involved in various ministries for the entire time we were there. Out of respect for our friends who still attend, I won't go into the reasons we'd come to that conclusion; the important thing is that we'd reached unity as a family.
Yet we weren't quite sure. So last February we decided to begin visiting other churches in the metro area when we could, and then we took a complete hiatus from our church at the beginning of summer to visit more earnestly. We prayed the entire time that God would lead us with clarity, either back to our church if we were supposed to stay or to our next church home; we simply wanted to obey, whatever that meant.
Counting a few places we'd previously visited out of curiosity, we checked out 13 different congregations. Along the way, we decided that every visit was worth it as a means of showing the girls different options before they move to new places where they'll each have to find a good church fit for themselves. So we looked at the visits as valuable "field trips" even if God ultimately led us back to where we'd been.
I was concerned and a bit frustrated by mid-July because, even though our visits seemed to be confirming in all of us that we wouldn't go back, we didn't have unity about where we should land. Then I had coffee with my friend Renee, who patiently listened as I expressed my thoughts on the different churches. At one point, she gently interrupted and said, "Can I put in a plug for New Hope?" That was interesting because she attends one of the other churches we were considering; I tucked her reasons in the back of my mind and we continued on with other topics.
But as I drove home, I couldn't get New Hope out of my head; we had all enjoyed our visit there in May but had kept visiting other places so I'd kind of put New Hope up on a mental shelf with some of the other earlier visits. When I got home, the girls were baking cookies together. I asked them what they were thinking about New Hope...and they both explained why they'd liked it during our visit. In fact, of all the places we'd checked out, New Hope seemed to be the one they both liked. I was rather giddy all afternoon - three of us seemed to be in agreement! - and couldn't wait to ask Jeff what he thought of the day's developments. When he got home and I asked, "What if we went back to New Hope?" his eyes lit up, and he said, "Really? Are we going home?"
You see, we'd attended New Hope before. Jeff and I went there in college and were married there. God used New Hope's evangelism team to draw me to saving faith and then used David George, the pastor when we both started attending, to ground Jeff and me solidly in our fledgling faith. David did our premarital counseling before he was called away to plant a church in California a few months before our wedding. Bill Anderson, the church's associate pastor, married us, and then the next senior pastor, Jonathan Peters, gave me my first post-college job, as New Hope's secretary, and made a huge impact on Jeff in regards to missions.
When we left a few years after we were married, it wasn't due to any problems. It was only because we were quite young and thought - right or wrong - that going somewhere more "contemporary" would help us to encourage our young friends to come to church with us. When we explained this to Pastor Jon and the elders, they actually gave us their blessing. And we have maintained friendships and warm connections with many at New Hope ever since, during our few years at the "contemporary" church we first attended and the many since while we were at our most recent church.
Thus, deciding to choose New Hope - which maintains the same commitment it's always had to deep, biblically-solid teaching and deep, committed relationships - meant we weren't going someplace new again. We were, instead, going back to where Jeff had started his adult Christian journey and where I'd actually begun my entire faith walk. And the fact that all four of us "knew" when we said it that New Hope was the right choice confirmed our decision.
During our first couple of Sundays there in early August, we were able to tell some of our old friends that we were coming home, and their reactions were priceless. The men all grinned and told us how happy they were; the women teared up and gave us huge hugs. One even said, "Well, we've always still thought of you as part of us anyway, as if you'd never left!" We've met with the current pastors, Jim and Jared, neither of whom was there when we left, and they, too, have affirmed their pleasure that we've come home, saying they're sure that New Hope will be blessed by our return. The congregation is very homeschool-friendly, which is a sweet perk. And Pastor Jim has given the green light for us to become involved in ministry as soon as we feel ready. So when I was asked last week to serve on worship team - a role dear to my heart that I thought I'd have to sacrifice for a time - I said yes. My first time up will be September 8!
It's a bit surreal to be back and, in some ways, feeling as if we'd never left. It makes me wonder how things might have been different for our family as the girls grew up if we'd stayed years ago. But I know God had good purposes - in the friendships we've made and things we've learned - at the two other churches we've called home for a season, so I'm not going to fret over that. Instead, I'm thankful God led us back, and I'm really looking forward to how He'll weave us back into the life of New Hope over the coming months and years. We could have made a way in any new congregation - a handful that we visited seemed very solid - but there's really something to be said for going back home.