You’d think moving to a small town in New England would make it easy to pick the right church to go to. I mean, seriously, how many evangelical churches could there be? Yet, somehow, we’re in a tight spot.
Here is where we live, right on the edge of a place called [Cape Ann](http://www.cape-ann.com/capemap.html):
Right from the beginning, Valerie and I determined we didn’t want to be the sort of people who wouldn’t join a church unless it was just perfectly suited to our every whim. We also decided that driving a long distance (say, 45 minutes) would be inappropriate, since the only reason we might stray so far from home to go to a church would be because we were too picky to go to a church that was local to us. Instead, we wanted to join a church where the culture was familiar, where the doctrine was sound, and where we felt we could really contribute to the life of our church. Beyond that, we wanted to consider any “problems” we might run into as opportunities to stand in the gap and act like servants instead of kings.
So far so good. Plus, there are only a total of 6 evangelical churches on Cape Ann. Here they are:
This should have been easy. And in fact, it actually was. The first church we went to was phenomenal. [Pigeon Cove Chapel](http://www.pigeoncovechapel.org/) (top right point on the map) is hands down the friendliest church I have ever been to. This is not a superficial friendliness: every single time we’ve visited, we’ve been invited to dinner. Nearly every hand we’ve shook has been followed by a phone number and a request that we call if we ever think of anything we might need. It’s a non-denominational church, which means that getting a set of doctrinal statements out of them is a little difficult, but nothing’s happened yet in the service that’s made me feel the slightest bit nervous. Plus, they clearly have a dozen areas where we could substantially contribute to the life of the church, which is pretty important, considering part of my school requirements involves “mentored ministry,” which actively monitors my involvement in a church or ministry.
This was the first church we visited, and no church in the area that we’ve gone to yet has come even close. Gift of God, no? What’s the problem?
The problem is that my school is here:
Worse, *Valerie’s* school is *way over here*:
With this in mind, we’re strongly considering moving onto campus at Gordon-Conwell after our lease is up. (It helps that rent on campus is at least $200 below market price.) But if we do that, then Pigeon Cove suddenly falls into the “kinda far away” category that we were hoping to avoid. It’s 17 miles exactly from the GCTS campus to Pigeon Cove Chapel.
There are a lot more churches near the school than way out on the Cape, and we hadn’t even started looking in that area, but we did get invited to one church that sounded fairly interesting: It’s called Grace Fellowship Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. The [Christian and Missionary Alliance](http://www.cmalliance.org/) is a small, but relatively old denomination, founded in 1887. They are gently charismatic in outlook, but pre-pentecostal in background, which is an interesting twist for me. However, the church itself is much younger than Pigeon Cove, both in terms of the membership as well as the church itself. Consequently it meets in a YMCA in Danvers, here:
Grace Fellowship is about eight miles from Gordon-Conwell, but that’s hardly the point. It’s an amazing church. Or, perhaps not so amazing, but for me the experience was pretty amazing. YMCA not withstanding, walking into that church was like coming home, it reminded me so much of another church I’d grown up in, also named Grace Fellowship, in Lawton, OK. Valerie says it also feels familiar to her as well. The worship was lively, and counted for about half of the service (a good ratio, in my opinion). The teaching was nice. And most importantly, there were people our age! The last church we went to had a certain dirth of couples in their 20’s, and at Pigeon Cove, we would again be the only young newlywed couple in the church. It’s not a bad thing, but it is very nice to be able to locate your own peer group.
At this point everything falls apart. Picking out a single church with so few to choose from should be easy. But here we are, wanting to go to both, and for completely different reasons. Grace Fellowship would be by far the easier church for us. Everything there already *works*. Familiar sounds, familiar style, folks our age with similar backgrounds to hang out with. We’ve already met one couple where the husband is in seminary at GC, and the wife is a recent college graduate with a biology degree. Sound familiar? But then, did God call us several thousand miles from home just so we could settle down and relax at a comfortable church?
As I said, one of the requirements for my degree is a program called Mentored Ministry. Basically, I have one semester to settle down and get involved in a church or some other approved ministry, and 5 semesters during which I have a formalized relationship with the leadership of my church (or ministry) and receive a grade the same as for a class. I’m not clear yet on whether I can change affiliations mid-stream, but I do know that I’m not favorable on changing churches once I’ve joined one. At Grace Fellowship, since there are so many other seminary students already there, I’m afraid there might be some kind of competition so far as dividing the work between what’s to be done, and people who need official recognition for doing it (echoes probably of my experiences at MorningStar). At Pigeon Cove, the sky’s the limit. I’d be the only seminary student there, and there are a lot more opportunities for things I could just step into immediately. Then again, I might be able to do my Mentored Ministry through a Christian school somewhere, and then it’s a moot point where I go to church.
There are other concerns. I’m a Charismatic, which is to say that I believe that the gifts of the Spirit, as described in 1 Corinthians (and other places) are appropriate expressions of the modern church. I know a lot of churches are very uncomfortable with persuing those gifts, and I’m not particularly keen on joining a new church where I might accidentally become an offence. I’m from a non-denominational background, but I’m very interested in working with a denomination. (Valerie’s from a Southern Baptist tradition, but there are hardly any of those in Massachusetts at all.)
Bluntly put, at Grace Fellowship, just visiting the church is pure pleasure, whereas at Pigeon Cove, you feel a yearning for ministry. Which is more important? In my mind they ballance even. In a lot of ways, it seems like the question is entirely geographical: Is God calling us to focus inward toward Boston, or outward, toward the Cape?
PS. maps stolen (and subsequently vandalized) from [Cape-Ann.com](http://www.cape-ann.com/capemap.html) and [Mass-Vacation.com](http://www.mass-vacation.com/jsp/page.jsp?&cat=68&level=3&g=g®ion=empty&org_id=empty)