I have loved my church for a decade. I still love it.
But we’ve been visiting another church for a few weeks. We’re not sure it’s home, but it’s feeling right for now. We’re being loved well by the people there and being fed God’s word.
You might be wondering, weren’t you being loved and taught well at your other church? Yes. We wouldn’t have been there for 11 years if that weren’t true.
This shift happened fast, much faster than we expected. Church friends, we genuinely wish we could have told everyone ourselves, as we know hearing about this on social media instead of from me will sting if we’re close.
I’m truly sorry for that.
As we just officially communicated to all the Access Ministry families and volunteers about our transition yesterday, we know this sort of news will spread quickly. I’d rather put the news out there from me in this impersonal way rather than have you hear it from someone else.
Why? That’s a valid question, and the answer is complex. (Again, let me say that we love our church. If you’re hoping for juicy gossip behind this change, you won’t find it.) The three basic reasons are racial representation, sensory issues, and adoption transitions:
- Racial representation: When we joined our church, we were newly married white couple. Now we’re a multiracial family by transracial adoption, with half our family made up of people of color. A few of our non-white children are struggling with feeling like church isn’t a place for them because they don’t see people in leadership who look like them. With racial tensions in this country at an all time high in our lifetimes, we’ve decided it isn’t healthy to raise our children - two white, three black, and one Asian - in a church whose leadership and membership is more white than their school, their city, or the faces that influence them from their favorite TV shows. Lee and I both consider our faith to be more central to our identity than education or politics or entertainment, so it hasn’t sat well with us to know that they see people like them front and center in those arenas but not the one that matters most to us.
- Sensory issues: One of our children is being evaluated right now for what we expect to be labeled as high functioning autism. One way this shows up is sensory overload. For the past year, we’ve been realizing that church literally hurts for him. The sounds, lights, and chaos of a larger church environment are experienced as pain by this child. Our church has accommodated us the best they can (I even wrote about it here), but we’ve seen this kiddo grow to hate church. All the accommodations we can offer simply haven't been enough. In three visits to a smaller church, though, we’ve seen a huge change in this kid’s attitude on Sundays, both before and after church. Even Saturday night was easier last weekend. Meanwhile, I pulled into our long-time church’s parking lot for a quick stop a week or so ago, and he started rocking back and forth, covering his ears, and crying, whimpering that he “didn’t want to go into the big loud church.” That was the moment for us that made us decided to have a faster transition that we planned. We’d hoped to alternate between churches for a while as we sought discernment from God. That’s clearly not going to be wise. Furthermore, our son's reaction offered the confirmation we needed to keep moving forward with this change.
- Adoption transition: Honestly, we didn’t even see this need until we talked to one of our children after the first time visiting the church we’re currently attending. One of our kids who was adopted at an older age feels like everyone in the old Sunday school class knows their adoption story and remembers when they weren’t in our family. That’s mostly true. Our church friends and their kids - our kids’ future classmates - were excited for us through the adoption process. We were loved. All our kids were celebrated. This was good and right and wonderful (in other words, you did nothing wrong, my friends!), but it created a consequence we didn't expect for some of our darlings' tender hearts. After one visit at this new church, one child told me, “Mommy, I like that no one at this new church knew our family before I was in it.” Wow. We talked about that a little more as a family. I realized that this was a big deal not only to her but another one of our kiddos. Because of adoption and race and disability and other factors, a lot of our kids will experience being othered: treated as different or as if they don’t belong somewhere. If we can minimize a small bit of that, we think that’s worthwhile.
What about families affected by disability at the church we’re leaving? First, let me be direct: we’re confident that Access Ministry wasn’t about us. It wasn’t led by us. It wasn’t centered in us. It is and has always been God’s. As we have seen this coming, albeit more slowly, we have been intentional to raise up leaders to step up in our absence. We are sure this area of ministry will continue, and if you are at that church, the family discipleship team there can answer any questions you have about the transition. But second, we want to share here that leaving Access Ministry is the most heartbreaking part of this transition for us. I love the children and families we serve, as well as the sweet servants who serve alongside Zoe to include her well in her classes. As I said in emails to those groups last night, each of you is one of the reasons we’ve wrestled long with God over this, in hopes of finding a way to stay. While we know this ministry will outlast us, we are grieving over leaving it.
Why are we sharing this publicly? To be clear, we are not trying to malign our church or create dissent. Also, none of this is brand-new news to our leadership, as we’ve worked with the family discipleship team at our first church to make for a smooth transition. (And we have been so loved by them in that process!) But simply put, we’re a public family. I’m a public speaker at ministry conferences. Before making this move, I had to communicate with a few organizers who have scheduled me to speak at upcoming events in case a change in churches would lead them to change those plans. (If so, we would have respected those changes but not changed what our family is choosing.)
And? There’s always a chance God could lead us back to the church where two newlyweds found a home eleven years ago. I do see an increased willingness there lately to wrestle with issues around race in a way we didn’t used to. For that, I am thankful. Perhaps the racial make-up of leadership will change in time too. Additionally, the new building plan will result in different acoustics and a different flow that might be received differently by our child with sensory struggles. Perhaps God is leading us away for a season, only to bring us back again someday in the future. We don't know. We don't have to know. Honestly, I don’t really think that’s how this will play out, but we’re open to whatever God’s plan is for our family. We can say for sure that we won’t church-shop for long as we don’t believe that to be biblical or wise. Church membership matters to us.
For now, please pray for us.
Please don’t worry that our relationships will end when our church membership does. We continue to love the church we’re leaving, and we know our friendships aren’t so fickle that a change in churches will end them.
Please ask any questions you might have. I’d prefer to do so privately. We don’t have any secrets, but I feel like I’ve probably said all I’m going to say publicly here. That said, I don’t want anyone making false assumptions, so ask away. We’ll do our best to offer answers or explain why we’re not comfortable doing so (for example, if it would be sharing too much of a child’s story than we consider fair).
Please trust us when we say this is good and right and positive, even as it is sad and hard and challenging too.
Please pray for our kids, for whom this change is beneficial but who have already experienced more change in their short lives than anyone should have to.
And please join us in being excited. As hard as this is, we believe God is writing a new chapter in our family’s story. How cool is that?!