Moving twice in my 30s has been difficult and wonderful all at the same time. The two moves resulted in new friends and new hobbies. They also came with fear and apprehension as I began again. Each move was to a different part of the country for the same reason: a fresh start.
The moving itself was quite unsettling and like many who move, the sooner I discovered routine, the smoother the transition would be. I turned to the practice of going to Sunday mass — something that has always grounded me. There was a familiarity in the ritual of mass. Finding a community to worship with regularly became as important as restocking my refrigerator. And both had to be done over and over.
It is like a modern tale of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” But instead of finding the right porridge temperature and chair size, I was searching for the community that feeds me spiritually and the parish that reflects my faith journey.
So, I renamed the story: “Clarissa and the Seven Churches.”
Too big, too cold
There were churches that were too big. Some people find big parishes incredibly nourishing and at other times of my life the bigger parish would have fit. But for right now, larger parish communities offer me too many options for getting involved. There are certainly benefits to belonging to an incredibly active parish with lots to do, but personally I would feel like I was missing out on something if there was too much going on around me.
Some churches were colder than others (and I’m not talking about the temperature.) The warmth I was looking for came in the form of people taking the time to catch up with each other before or after mass. For me, that points to the importance of relationships parish-wide and not just when someone gets up at the beginning of mass and asks you to greet those around you. A welcoming parish should exude “welcome” as soon as you walk in the doors. That does not necessarily mean a fleet of greeters. I’m talking about how the space is decorated and the way people are interacting with one another.
In one or two instances, the music did not really fit my preferences. My tastes were in the middle of traditional organ music and uptempo contemporary. There needed to be a balance.
Much like Goldilocks, I kept sitting in different pews until there was something that clicked in my heart.
My “Aha!” moment came when I discovered a small parish that many years ago was considered one of the most vibrant in Chicago. Architectural issues have forced the church sanctuary to close its doors. But mass has moved into the parish hall while renovation options are being explored. One sign of hope: financial hiccups have not deterred the parish from functioning or serving.
In this instance, it was not the building or the façade that captured my heart. The people within the parish became my church. The music spoke to me and oftentimes left me a little teary-eyed after I received the Eucharist. There was a strong commitment to social justice and serving those in the South Side neighborhood who could not care for themselves. I appreciated that our small faith-sharing opportunities attracted college students and folks in their 70s. There was a feeling of togetherness.
Searching for a parish was certainly time-consuming and there were a few weeks that left me a little spiritually flat. It took some work — an internet search, finding directions on Google Maps, and then maybe checking out the Sunday bulletin online — before I would decide to make the trek to a new parish. I asked friends and friends of friends for recommendations.
Granted, I know this is more work than some people will put into their church search. It would have been less time-consuming to settle on the first or second parish I visited. Yet the spiritual rewards of finding the “right” church family for me continue to replenish themselves. Walking up the steps to the church feels like I am walking up to my own home. The parish has become a place to worship and a place for me to serve the wider community. I participate in Sunday liturgy as a lector. I have also served on the planning committee for our young adult ministry and volunteered in our food pantry. Not only does my parish offer an opportunity for reflection each week, but it also gives me a chance to put faith into action. After all, if Goldilocks never tried all that porridge, who knows what would have happened? I’m glad my church hunting had a happy ending.