07 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 6: The Journey of the Spiritual Orphan

I didn't expect to attend a church service at a location where I once made out with this openly bi-chick who immediately moved onto another gal following the "quality bonding time" we spent, but here I was entering what was once The Regency Theater in San Francisco on the corner of Sutter and Van Ness. I was approached by the greeters and ushers as soon as I walked in. Now in a church service, that IS what's supposed to happen. However in other SF churches I've attended, that was usually not the case. The greeters at the other churches in SF handpicked and chose who they greeted. And on top of that, what is this that I see here: a buffet spread??? OK, it was just fresh fruits, donuts, coffee, tea, and juice, but that's a LOT. I'm happy just to get coffee. Otherwise you paid for your food at the church's cafe. Not so here. At the conclusion of the service I was able to meet the worship team and the pastor. Turned out that the pastor was a New York transplant who was the assistant teaching pastor of The Journey in NY. They decided to plant a church on the West Coast. His background was an actor in NY. I was impressed. I wasn't able to attend the following week's service because I had tickets to the Raiders game, so I returned the week after. I got to know more folks, and was invited to volunteer at the San Francisco Food Bank.

Volunteering at the Food Bank later that week enabled me to get to know other members of the church better. After helping out at the food bank, I was invited to meet some other members who was celebrating one of their birthday at a sushi spot. It was interesting to see some of the transplant from outside of the Bay Area express some reservation on the selection of the seafood on the menu. The person who was celebrating her birthday was the greeter who approached me the first time I came there. So the worship team leader who more or less hosted the dinner had a tradition to go around and have everyone make a positive compliment on the person being honored. When it came to my turn, having only met her three times, I simply told her my truthful experience with her: I thanked her for making me feel welcomed on the first day because that was a factor on why I returned.

For some reason, this was somewhere that I was initially comfortable enough to not only attend regularly, but participate in their activities outside of Sunday Services. A core group of attenders would rotate a lunch routine after the services on Sunday. I joined one of the groups that met regularly every week. This church also attracted a lot of artists. The wife who hosted the weekly study group was also an actor like myself, I met quite a few students attending Academy of Arts University. Another transplant from Omaha was someone I took under my wings in acting. Mentoring her led to actual performance coaching sessions which led to the beginning of my coaching biz. For awhile, I was in the planning route often running errands on behalf of the staff. Eventually I also submitted to a background check in order to help at the child care.

It's no coincidence that the length of the "good times" I experienced with The Journey was approximately the same length of time of my involvement with Venture. Kinda like how I was never able to exceed the three year mark of my past serious relationships. Actually the length exceeded that of Venture. From the end of 2007 to end of 2009 was about my time that I was involved with them on a consistent basis.

Things began to slowly unravel following the Christmas 2008 worship service. I missed the service because I was assigned to child care that day. I was working with the "new" person in charge of the childcare. Up to that point my friend was in charge of the childcare. The new person came in to check up on us two who were taking care of the kids. The 2nd person who was working with me was someone they brought from outside the church so that the "regulars" involved could be able to attend the service. When I brought it to the attention of the new lady in charge that if that'd be the case why was I still scheduled to miss the service. Her reply was that because she heard that I had no real close friends or family outside of the church, I wasn't likely to have guests to attend the major services. She even jokingly "warned" me that I'll most likely miss Easter service. I didn't think much of the "joke" until when Easter 2009 came around and I was scheduled to work childcare. I turned in my resignation for childcare shortly after Easter 09.

I guess I did take to heart of the lack of guests I've invited to church over the years. When I began my 90-day goal setting and coaching program called Pacesetters' Leadership Dynamics (PLD) in January 2009, I decided to set a "guests-goal" as my spirituality goal. (PLD had you set challenging goals for 4 areas: relationship, career, physical, and spirituality) So in the 90 days, I was to have brought a minimal of 8 new guests to a Journey worship service who did not attend another church on a regular basis. In that 90 days, I brought a total of 12 guests there.

Strike two was after donating a significant amount to their "Embrace the City" campaign, I requested to the pastor if it was possible for him to set aside a donation to one of my favorite charities as part of the campaign. He agreed to donate $500 to the charity. I thought it was fine and dandy until I received an email from the charity telling me that the check was no good. Supposedly, the church re-issued another check, and I guess things were better this time around, but I did lose a respectable amount of credibility with that charity organization.

The final straw was when my "buddy" from my study group who was a staff member of the church needed a car for the week because he was unable to rent a car. I loaned him my Civic naively thinking that as a church group, accountability partner, and friend, he'd approach the situation in a responsible manner. One week ended up being seven weeks, and he eventually offered $100/week because of the lateness to which he paid for. It was just that the day after the car was returned, I drove the Civic for no more than two blocks before the hood began to smoke, and I had to drive the car back to my parking spot on the street. I ended up having the car towed to the mechanic where I forked out $1400 in repairs. The car is still out of commission even after the repairs and the cost, and I have a daily visual reminder on the issue of trust. This is not the end of the story though. A short time after my car was in the mechanic, my "friend" approached me because he needed a photocopy of my registration and auto insurance. When I asked why, it was because his wife was speeding with my car and got a ticket. Failure to provide proof of insurance and registration was like a $1600 fine. When I reminded him about how my car was in the shop, his only response was, "how strange that we didn't have that problem when we had it." He kept pestering me for a couple of weeks until I sent him an angry email stating that as long as he was not going to help me with the mechanic expense, I was not going to furnish the copies.

When the couple who hosted the study group announced their upcoming move to Colorado, I received an invite to their going away get-together. I set aside that time and date since I felt close to the couple and we shared a lot over the two year period. In fact the wife who was a fellow actor and who used to be in charge of the childcare, took my spot in childcare on Easter when she learned about the scheduling, the comment made by the other person in charge, and the fact that I had two guests scheduled to come that day. It was unfortunate to have my invite "retracted" because since the friend of mine who borrowed and damaged my car was bringing his family to the event, the hostess (not the friend departing) felt it was best that I not attend.

I stop going to church for a couple of months afterwards.

When promoting the membership class for the Journey, the pastor would remind the folks about how bad it is to be a "spiritual orphan." His definition of a "spiritual orphan" is one who has not declared a membership with a specific "home church." To him, that lack of commitment was "not approved" by God. My response to that is when the church creates "spiritual orphans," who are they to judge them? If God doesn't approve of "spiritual orphans," then I'm someone who believes in God whom God doesn't approve of. Oh well. For me, I have no shame in being a "spiritual orphan." I've been physically orphaned the moment I was born, so what difference should not committing to a home church make?

Now for the record, I do not advocate violence to settle differences. After all the personal development courses I've invested in during the past 3 years, it'd be a waste to go to any extreme to settle a solution. Having said all of that, anytime I hear on the news about a church attack or a church shooting, or some sort of violent incident against a church or a congregation, with after all I went through with this church...


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