It hit me earlier today that my life is forever changed after this week. Ok, perhaps not forever changed, but changed from what it was only just a week ago. Only 8 weeks ago, I was still a Smith student, and all of a sudden, I’m now a seminary student. As I said before, I expected that I would feel differently upon entering seminary, but at times, I don’t notice that my life down here in New Jersey is any different from when I lived in Northampton. I mean, I didn’t expect that all of a sudden, my life would be different in the way that I view the world or how I identify personally, but I at least expected that I might feel differently about myself having begun this journey. Well, ok, perhaps I did. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I halfway expected that seminary would become the sudden catalyst that initiated the drastic transformation of my life. And well, to be honest, that just hasn’t happened.
I think the first sign that Princeton, NJ has become my not-so-temporary home for the next few years was my attempt at church-hopping this past Sunday. As many of you know, I’m soon to be under-care with the Reformed Church in America, which means a whole lot of things – actually an overwhelming number of things, or so it seems – but most specifically, it means that I will be literally “taken care of” by the denomination during my time and training at seminary. With this comes the not so obvious obligation to attend a church of the same denomination. When I applied here, I thought that since I would be just down the road from my own denomination’s seminary (and by right down the road, I mean like 15 miles…which in reality is NOT right down the road, I have come to realize…), the area would be swarming with RCA churches, and would therefore give me numerous choices as far as a Sunday home is concerned. However, I am now realizing simply how wrong I was. The RCA churches around here are few and far between, and when they do pop up, they are tiny, struggling congregations, which is a nearly impossible situation when I compare it to my highly successful (and well-known, apparently) RCA home in Bronxville. Coming from a church with a well-funded and highly-attended congregation, I have become accustomed to a certain style of worship, and a style of being just in general. But never in a million years did I picture it to be a challenge when it came to finding a new church home. The churches around Princeton Theological Seminary are adorable, and have an energy that is a mix between excitement (at the prospect of a new attendee – not member) and also an energy of struggling (if that makes any sense) at the same time. It is evident that many of the congregations – including the one I attended in nearby Rocky Hill, NJ are filled with God’s love and presence, but at the same time, are not unlike the RCA churches I have heard about at home – they are filled with love and life, but not with funds. Or rather, the number of members are dwindling, and so are the funds (mostly from tithes).
I absolutely hate to see houses of worship suffer and slowly face their demises, but at the same time, I wonder whether or not I will ever come to find a church that even equals that in which I was raised. Perhaps it is because it was my home for 20 years, or perhaps it is the people, but there is absolutely nothing like The Reformed Church of Bronxville, and I have no shame in saying that. So, I suppose I should say that I have high standards (perhaps even too high) when it comes to finding a new church. I want a traditional/liturgical service (which isn’t that hard to find, surprisingly), a mixed congregation (meaning mixed racially/ethnically, and age-wise, gender, etc), and a good-sized congregation (aka more than the 10 people that attended Rocky Hill Reformed this past sunday). I want a congregation that seems to come to life on Sundays, not one that just scrapes by. I understand that this is a nearly impossible feat in today’s economy, but I suppose that I need a place that I will hopefully call home to seem lively and passionate about God, not just there to sing a few hymns and hear a sermon as though they are just wrote behaviors.
Sure, I sound picky, but in my opinion, finding a church is yet another sign that I have transitioned away from my four years at Smith and have begun to settle into the next phase of my life. I already feel settled down here (aka I have my grocery store, my target – all the important necessities), but I want to feel spiritually settled down here as well, and until I find a church, I think that will take a while. The biggest question on my mind at the moment is: what if I don’t find an RCA church that works for me? Well, to this question, I usually try to offer the following answer: I will find the right church for me, regardless of the denomination, because if my denomination doesn’t understand what makes me tick, then they don’t appreciate me for who I am, and who God made me to be. But fortunately, I have an amazing classis, so I don’t think this will be a particularly tasking problem.
So. Where do I go from here? Well, since I promised to bring potato salad to next week’s BBQ at Rocky Hill Reformed Church, I am pretty much promised to them on Sunday. But as for the future, I think I’m going to try some places within walking distance. I’ve heard amazing things about Nassau Presbyterian Church, and since that is close enough to RCA for me, I think I’ll give that a try. I mostly like the idea that it is within walking distance, which saves my car (the Forester thanks me eternally for that…don’t you Subaru?) from miles that it doesn’t need…must I continue? I think I’m going to try a few of the churches in Princeton for the rest of the summer weekends I’m around, and let God do the rest.
So how does this end? Well, it feels super weird that I won’t be going back to Smith in September, because there are so many people there that I call friends and family, and whom I will miss dearly. But at the same time, I know that if I were meant to still be there, I would be. God wants me here right now, and I must continue to remember that, relishing in the small pleasures and building new relationships. These relationships won’t replace the ones that I love very dearly at Smith by any means, but this is the next chapter of my life, and with every chapter comes new characters!