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Faith & Spirituality

Church Shopping

By Money Grubbing Lawyer

Money Grubbing Lawyer is a young Canadian lawyer who blogs about money and all the silly things he likes to spend it on. He also posts on a range of topics not normally considered “personal finance”, including food, technology, and as in this guest post, spirituality. Check out his site and be sure to subscribe to his feed.

I was raised a good Irish Catholic boy and still have the crushing guilt to prove it. I went to a Catholic school, took communion, went to confession and was confirmed in Grade 8. If the IRA had organized a youth wing in rural Newfoundland I would have been there, ready to fling a Molotov cocktail at the local Orange Order.

For a brief period in Grade 1, my stated ambition in life was even to become a priest, although this quickly disappeared when I realized that a priest couldn’t afford the white Lamborghini Countach that adorned the poster on my wall (and the wall of every young boy in the 1980’s). Every weekend, my mother would religiously (in the most accurate sense of the word) take my sister and I to mass, and I would regularly watch my grandmother burn candles, pray the rosary, and break out the holy water when I was sick. As an interesting aside, I recently found out that my grandmother has taken to buying candles in bulk at a local dollar store and having them blessed by the parish priest, as it’s significantly cheaper than buying the individual pre-blessed candles sold by the Church. That’s a frugal tip if there ever was one!

Then, in about Grade 9, I did a religious 180– I abandoned and denounced the Catholic Church, much to the dismay of my family. I think my family would have been more understanding if I had left in order to pursue leather jackets, death metal, cigarettes and loose women behind the school like so many of my peers. But instead, I had left for much more sinister reasons- to attend another church. And not just any other church, either- a respectable Anglican or Presbyterian congregation might have been okay, but I had absconded with the hand-raising, singing, shouting, no-drinking, no-dancing Pentecostal church.

My move to Pentecostalism was founded in the exuberance and rebellion of youth, in that boundless search for anything new and exciting. I was enthralled by the youthfulness of the church and the vibrancy of the services. The pipe organ of my Catholic home was replaced with electric guitars and drums, centuries old hymns replaced with contemporary worship songs, the predictable and formulaic masses supplanted by seemingly spontaneous and free-flowing services (it would take a couple of years before I realized that the Pentecostal services were actually just as regimented and scripted as those Catholic masses of my childhood, the Pentecostals just didn’t have the courtesy to provide the gathered faithful with a handy printed program). This church offered everything a spiritually searching teen could want- acceptance, energy, and most importantly, parental disapproval and oh-so-innocent teen girls. Praise the Lord, I was saved.

My involvement with the Pentecostal church lasted a few years, but my relationship became increasingly strained as I grew spiritually and intellectually and began to question the things I had previously taken on blind faith. I found the church that had taught me the importance of Scripture and a personal Jesus to be increasingly intolerant of my attempts to explore the details of this relationship and to question the precepts of the faith. What I had initially seen as devotion soon became apparent as dogma, and I became disillusioned with the social conservatism and intolerance that permeated the church. My attempts to genuinely explore Scripture and question beliefs were shot down, and so I did exactly what I had done several years before- I walked away.

Fast forward ten years. Since leaving the church, I have been on what I would call a self-guided spiritual quest, sort of like a distance-ed course in religion. I’ve explored Scripture and commentary and well acquainted myself with the modern canon of Christianity and the volumes of criticisms. Nothing has been off limits, and my schizophrenic bookshelf is a testament to this- C.S. Lewis mixed with the Dalai Lama mixed with Richard Dawkins, all dog-eared and covered in my personal scribbles. During this ten year sabbatical, I have only set foot in churches on perhaps a dozen occasions, mostly for weddings and funerals. But for some strange reason, I now find myself searching for spiritual home once again.

Many people despise the phrase “church shopping”, yet that is exactly what I find myself doing. My wife and I have visited a couple of churches so far, trying to find one that will “fit”. I have even developed a bit of a spiritual shopping list of the things that are important to me:

  • The essential Jesus – The most basic and fundamental messages preached by Jesus were love your God and love your neighbor. Anything else is gravy.
  • Open and inviting – I’m a pretty friendly and easy going guy, and I’d like a church that is laid back and genuinely welcoming. More Ned Flanders, less Rev. Lovejoy.
  • Non-fundamentalist – I don’t believe that the Bible is the literal, infallible, historically and scientifically irreproachable word of God. Not even close.
  • Theologically and socially liberal – If you think a woman’s place is in the home, gays are the scourge of the earth, and bingo is the devil’s game, we’re probably not going to get along. I think stem cells are neat and might name one of my children Darwin. And if you tell me not to drink beer, all bets are off.
  • Tolerant of other belief systems – You don’t have to agree, but at least be respectful. You can’t win the “my God is better than your god(s) / lack of gods” argument; don’t even try.
  • Non-repetitive and non-repetitive – You don’t need to sing that song 5 times, and you certainly don’t need to repeat the message of your sermon half a dozen times. I’m not an idiot, I got it the first time.
  • Open to debate and discussion –I’m open to discussing and debating all the things I’ve got listed above, and I’ll even entertain the possibility that I’m wrong. Are you?
  • Eggs, milk, and Shake n’ Bake – Oops, that’s from my real shopping list. 🙂

I don’t realistically expect to find a spiritual community that I fully agree with and that fully agrees with me. Unless I decide to start my own cult (still a viable option), I recognize that I may need to compromise and accept some theological differences. That’s probably a good thing, too- “yes men” and groupthink rarely produce good results. Yet I still feel a little strange picking through denominations like I’m going through the bargain bin at K-Mart, searching for just the right color and style. Surely, a church isn’t something you should “shop” for… is it?

Our approach to finding a church so far has been to talk to friends, to get recommendations, and to stop by and see for ourselves. It’s a bit of a clumsy way to go about things, but I’ve yet to find a nice Excel spreadsheet or online questionnaire of some sort that will magically tell me which church best suits us. I asked my engineer wife to develop a fancy algorithm to make things easier, but she just rolled her eyes and muttered something about wanting a church that permitted divorce. I’d be interested to hear just how Clever Dude readers settled on their church (if they have one), and any tips to make my search a little easier.

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Clever Dude


  • O/T I know that this is meant to be a light-hearted humourous piece, but as someone who grew up in Northern Ireland- I have to point out that it is in fairly bad taste to even hint at the fact you wished you could’ve joined the IRA.
    Further quite a large percentage of Irish and Northern-Irish Catholics did not condone the actions of the IRA, just as only a minority of the Protestants supported the Loyalist groups.
    Good luck in your church hunt.

  • @Amy and Karen- thanks for the suggestions! There’s an active Unitarian Universalist congregation in my area, but I haven’t checked them out yet. I’ll also have a look at the Religious Science groups.

    @L- My sincere apologies if I caused any offence. I really wish I could say that it was just an offhanded comment meant to elicit a laugh, but it wasn’t- the town where I grew up had a long history of sectarian tensions and cultural divisions and intolerances were part of the upbringing. To a young boy growing up in this environment, but far enough removed from the realities of The Troubles, groups like the IRA were cheered without really understanding all that this meant. In hindsight this was deplorable, but it’s the truth nonetheless.

  • I was raised as a Quaker, and while I don’t identify with any religion now, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything. Granted, silent worship isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it gets straight to the essence of thinking for yourself.

  • I know you’ve given a list of what you want in a church, but it seems as if an underlying principle has been overlooked. Are you looking for a church that preaches what you want to hear and what you agree with, or are you looking for a church that represents the truths that Jesus taught, even if it challenges your position on certain issues? Jesus lovingly confronted those who wanted to live life their own way instead of God’s way. Contrary to current political correctness, the truth of the matter is that The God who created us has given us very specific instructions about how we should live our lives, including how we should worship. If one doesn’t give credence to those instructions (the bible) then one’s faith is not based on God’s truth, but on man’s opinion. If that is the case then it seems as if it doesn’t matter much where one goes to church. If, however, one’s goal is to learn the truth about God and develop a relationship with Him, then one would be well served in a church that believes the Word of God. I believe God appreciates all attempts to know more about Him, and if you will pray and ask Him to reveal the truth of your situation, He will be faithful to lead you into that truth, and to the perfect church for you.

  • @Tina – Thanks for the insightful comment. Interestingly, what you have said is pretty close to the response I have recently received from a very close friend who is devoutly Catholic, a minister at a local evangelical church that I’ve attended, my former Pentecostal pastor, and a LDS missionary who helped me hang drywall in my house (but that’s another story!). Obviously, each has very different views about what the Word of God actually means, and I suspect that if I were to ask an Imam I’d get a very similar response.

    I should also clarify my point about non-fundamentalism just a little- while I don’t subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, I do accept it as the divinely inspired Word of God. My views on most other topics are shaped by this, although I’m always open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Stranger things have happened!

    To answer your question, my goal is to find a church that will help me grow spiritually- otherwise, a social club of some sort would do. However, the “things I want to hear” and the beliefs I hold cannot be removed from this, as they serve as a reference point for what I believe to be the truths that Jesus taught. The result of my prayer, reflection, and study is the list above.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  • I should also clarify my point about non-fundamentalism just a little- while I don’t subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, I do accept it as the divinely inspired Word of God. My views on most other topics are shaped by this, although I’m always open to the possibility that I’m wrong.

  • Try Buddhism. It is very close to what “true” christianity is (aka, just the facts and goodness, without all the pagentry).

    and as we learned from the simpsons (throwing this bone out to my buds here)…you can still be a buddhist and celebrate christian holidays…just don’t expect the pony that lisa wanted.

  • I’ve pretty much given up on finding my ideal church. I’ve just decided to get up and go when I feel like it and take from the experience what I will. If I visit a church and I find their teaching in conflict with what I understand the Bible to teach I just don’t go back again.

    If you’ve got your heart set on finding a church home (ie a church community to be apart of) then I would suggest getting out and going to different churches every Sunday until you find one you like. I also suggest a great deal of prayer and meditation. Remember different churches in different denominations can be very different. And involve your whole family in the decision.

    Good luck.

  • To answer your question, my goal is to find a church that will help me grow spiritually- otherwise, a social club of some sort would do. However, the “things I want to hear” and the beliefs I hold cannot be removed from this, as they serve as a reference point for what I believe to be the truths that Jesus taught.

  • I hope you understand that I was not judging you with my comment. Many people do treat church as some sort of social club, and if that works for them, who am I to judge? I was just trying to point out that there are different approaches based on different goals. It seems as though you have given it a lot of thought and the sincerity of your search is refreshing.

  • Can I just say, I love that a mormon missionary helped you put up dry wall. Typical. Those guys are not afriad to get their hands dirty.

    I also like the “thinking of naming your child Darwin” quote. I threw that idea out to my husband, religious truths and physical truths should compliment each other, not try to tear the other to pieces. As a bio major at Brigham Young University, it was really cool to realize that. But Darwin isn’t that cool of a name nowadays…perhaps I’ll name my dog Darwin.

    Good luck on your quest.

  • Don’t give up on the main line protestants quite yet. What you are discribing sounds a lot like the more thoughtful sort of Anglicanism.

    Wish you lived close by, would love to have your family as guests at my home parish.

  • I really enjoyed reading your post and found a lot of similarities in our situations. I too was raised Irish Catholic. Although I never quit attending, as a teen I always thought that the Church of God had a nice ring to it. It seemed to say it all quite simply. While in college, I fell in love with a divorced man who was raised Southern Baptist, but who did not espouse their beliefs. My fiance had briefly attended a Lutheran Church after a co-worker had recommended it, but for some reason, he stopped going there. When we decided to get married, I started the annulment process so we could be married in the Catholic Church. Then, my parents passed away and for some reason, it didn’t seem so important to be married by a priest. We started shopping for a church home. Every Sunday we would head out for a different church. Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian- we tried them all. We were trying to find something meaningful to both of us. Our needs were almost exactly the same as those you listed. Well, as we left a Methodist Church one Sunday, depressed that the service had not touched us, we spotted the little Lutheran Church my fiance had once attended across the street. We decided to go there the next week. The following Sunday, as we stepped out of the car onto the parking lot, we knew. We had come home. It was an “Ah-ha” moment. We were warmly welcomed by people who remembered my fiance even though it had been years since he had been there. The service itself was uplifting and the Pastor kind and well, Godly. We stayed after the service and spoke to the Pastor about getting married. After the wedding, we brought my husband’s children there and they were Baptized. We wound up being co-teachers for a third grade Sunday School class one year. Fast forward 5 years. My husband and I always wanted to work together. I was home sick from work one day and read our Lutheran magazine and found an ad for a couple to manage a Lutheran Retreat Center in another state. After a lot of procrastination and prayer, we decided to apply for the job. Fast forward twenty-one years! We have now worked at four different Lutheran camps in three states. The Lutheran Church (ELCA) continues to have meaning for us and allows us to grow spiritually. I highly recommend you look into it. It meets most of the needs you stated in your list. The main belief is Justification through Faith in Jesus. Most Lutheran Churches I have attended are open and inviting, but they are all different too: I wouldn’t say you won’t find one that could be off-putting. Please don’t let the word “Evangelical” turn you off immediately: we are not Fundamentalist. We are open to other beliefs and are in communion with several other denominations. As for non-repetitive, that’s where our needs differ. Lutherans are a Liturgical Church and do follow an Order of Service every week. The Roman Catholic in me loves the Liturgy and the repetition! It was one thing my husband had to adjust to in the beginning. However, in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) used by most congregations, I think there are 10 different worship settings. Most congregations use at least two or three different ones every year. As for hymns, to me it seems we never sing the same one twice! As for sermons, well, Pastors are all individual. Like you, I prefer them to make their point and move on. However, I have had Pastors who seem to belabor the message during the sermon. The ELCA counterpart in Canada is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). I have met many ELCIC camp professionals during the years and found them to be open and spiritual.
    Sorry this wound up to be such a long response, but your post about your search reminded me of where we were twenty six years ago. Good luck and God Bless!

  • When you took your break from organized religion to go out on your own, how did it feel initially? I’m planning an extended holiday from my traditional Catholic practice. I find the thought of pursuing this a little daunting….probably because I still hear that voice saying”It’s a “mortal sin to miss mass on Sunday.” But I want to find out how “other” people live their lives and find God outside of the fairly neatly circumscribed program orchestrated by my tradition.. Was the Samaritan woman in the New Testament ever permitted to re-enter her clan as a respectable woman much less worship with the Jews of her day – of course not, but Jesus still embraced her. Perhaps it’s time for me to move from the safety of my 44-year old habit to one that might shake things up a little and offer the possibility for growth. I know that I can’t get a signed permission slip from the local deaconate to take a holiday from their program, but I’m still wondering if this experiment I’m planning is for the right reasons. I’m very excited about it – both mentally and physically. Perhaps it feels too good to be right??

    • @John, I did the “excursion” before I was married, which means I had the freedom to choose as I wished. Now that I’m married, the one problem I’m finding with searching out more “truths” is that my wife is pretty solid in her Catholicism and doesn’t understand why I need to buck the trend. I envy her faith, but we think differently and I need things explained to me to understand them better.

      If you’re single, or if not but your spouse is open to exploration of your faith, then I recommend just visiting other churches (non-Catholic, but still Christian) on Sundays. If you feel guilty missing mass at your parish, then attend both services. It’s usually only an extra 1-2 hours out of your day, and if it’s something important to you, then you should be happy to get a “double dose” of spirituality on Sundays. You can also try doing a Saturday night mass at your church, or nearby Catholic church, and use Sundays for visiting other churches.

      I do recommend exploring your own faith (Christianity) to see if you just need a jump start. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, then it may be time to branch out to other lines of thought and see what you find. Good luck!

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