For the unchurched but curious, the pandemic has made it easier than ever to find your religious fit. Yea, we are verily in a golden age of church shopping.
Pre-pandemic, choosing a congregation involved interacting directly with church members and staff. In a small town, there was no hope of anonymity. The swarm of welcome after the service could be overwhelming. Any time I visited a church, I felt like I was letting them down by not joining — even if it was my sister’s church six states away.
I’m not complaining about being embraced by a community. It’s one of the best features of a church. But it should be a community you want to embrace in return.
Of course, church-going is not only a matter of community. It’s also a matter of faith and creed and ritual. If you need help determining which creed or level of ritual agrees with you, the Belief-O-Matic quiz can help you find a match.
I come from a long line of Quakers but meeting houses are hard to come by where I live. I could sit in silence with a distant meeting over the Internet, or I could find a local Protestant church that I could almost-maybe fit in with, creed-wise. I do not see the point of sitting in silence with strangers over the Internet, so I considered Option 2.
Belief-O-Matic told me the secular and humanist Unitarians might be a good match, given that I don’t believe in God as a being. The local parish, however, wasn’t a good match for me; they were a little too “Kumbaya” and drum circles and not enough “God of Our Fathers” and pipe organ.
I love the old hymns, and it turns out I like a little reverence with my Sunday brunch. I may not believe in God, but I do believe in appreciation and awe for the wonders around us. My next stop was a promising United Church of Christ about an hour away. Their multiple live-streamed worship options and jazz coffeehouse were appealing. But the minister’s sermon was devoted solely and explicitly to getting out the vote.
Now, at no point did the minister tell you who to vote for, but even the slowest parishioner would be able to suss out the church’s preferred presidential pick. It wasn’t exactly subtle. And you all know how I feel about that. Click! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I could leave the sermon mid-stream instead of sitting through the whole thing, trapped in a church that I adamantly disagree with.
I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m debating between the local Episcopal and UCC churches. So far I’ve attended two services of each, live-streamed. I know and like many of the members of the Episcopal church, but this particular parish seems more formal High-Anglican than this lapsed Quaker is comfortable with. They have a large staff and constantly complain about money. I can think of one way to save money — lay off at least one of the three or four ministers! The UCC parish has a more relaxed service and smaller staff. I know far, far fewer of the congregation but those I know, I like.
One Pandemic Plus (might have to trademark that) is that I can spend Sunday morning alternating between live-streamed services until I find a church I like. I can even watch services hours away, if nothing nearby suits me. Live-streaming has been such a success for parishes — and such an investment in technology — that most of the churches I’ve tried expect to continue even after quarantine is lifted.
Somewhere there must be a Unitarian parish that sings hymns and plays the organ. That would be a perfect fit.