My journey continued forward. My future wife, who's name is Rachel, and I finally began dating in late 2002. This would last for nearly a year before we completely broke up due to our various struggles. It was mostly that I still didn't have my head on straight from all the stuff that was going on inside of my mind. In the following months, we had as little contact as we could with one another, which was especially hard since we had virtually all the same friends! Along with this, I had to find a new church since we always went to church together...
It was a few months after this that I began going to church with my roommate. It was a small church and I immediately enjoyed it.
It was a very strange experience back in 2004 to become attending a new church. It was even stranger when I was immediately welcomed into being part of leading worship! I had always participated from the pews and in Sunday school. But here, I showed up with Wayne, who was on the praise team, and they invited me to come play with them! And they really liked me. So I quickly made this my church home for the next two years. While there, I got involved in the youth ministry, got to help with adult ministry (led a new/want to know more believers class, helped on the praise team,etc).
I was deeply involved with the praise team at throughout my time there. In fact, the assistant minister who led it even allowed me to pick songs when he was going to be out of town or preaching on a Sunday. Eventually, he decided to step down and let me take over leading. It was a great experience.
During this time, I was also working two jobs. One was in a skateboard/t-shirt shop and the other I had recently began. It was at a local restaurant that kept late night hours. Both of these were great jobs for ministry and meeting people. I was greatly blessed by good co-workers and got to do something that I am good at doing, customer service (something that I have often not wanted to admit).
So, I stayed extremely busy during the time that Rachel and I were avoiding one another.
During this time, I feel that I had a great deal of growth in my spiritual life. I didn't really have a choice. It was grow or die really. I immersed myself in reading books about the Christian life, continued reading Peter Kreeft and other apologetic works, thinking through philosophical arguments about God's existence, and also avoiding going to classes (I was still pursuing my bachelor's degree at this point...yes, if you do the math, this was the sixth year of college for me ;) ). It was a very challenging number of months for me.
So...what's the take home from all of this?
The church that I was involved in wouldn't even be considered low church in the Anglican sense. We had no liturgy. We were basically a non-denom type church though we were associated with the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. So, we had your typical service of song praise songs, prayer time, collection, sermon, closing song, closing prayer.
We practiced contemporary music for our worship and we were pretty good honestly. We didn't pick our songs carelessly, but we never consulted the pastor about his sermon or anything like that. We picked songs that we liked and worshiped through the music, but honestly, it was all very disconnected at the end of the day. (this is an important fact to remember as my journey leads into my reasons for becoming Anglican)
When Rachel and I started dating again, she began attending and plugging into my church. Again, she was welcomed with open arms to serve and be part of our community there. However, shortly after we were married, things for the church took a turn for the worse. The church became absorbed in disunity and after 7 months it all fell apart. The church voted to close, people were hurt, people were slandered and gossiped about, etc. Rachel and I were burnt out completely with church that involved anything that smacked of contemporary praise music.
The reason for this was because the praise team had gone through various changes over the time that I was there. As I had said, I had taken over leadership, different people had left and moved on and it pretty much became me and Rachel with a couple others as the praise team. We attempted various things to bring unity back to the church in our worship. We attempted to make the worship more "worshipful." We even tried to introduce the concept of Advent into the final Christmas season that they church was open as a way to get back to basics (this involved stripping the music to one song a Sunday and introducing a small prayer of confession and looking toward the celebration of the birth of Christ and some responsive reading from Scripture). None of it availed and only left Rachel and me hurt and struggling in our faith.
After the church shut down, we visited a few places, some of which were still contemporary because we had not put the finger on why we were so burnt out. However, we visited the local Lutheran church that my best friend had joined and loved. The first Sunday we were there, we felt at home and a deep sense of relief to worship with the liturgy. In this church, we began finding a deep healing from our wounds and I felt that I had finally found a home where I could stay. This only lasted for about a year, because by the end of 2006, we were looking to move to Charlotte so that I could start seminary at Reformed Theological. I know, quite strange that a Lutheran convert would pick a Calvinistic school, but I thought it would be a stepping stone toward a Lutheran school, but I soon realized that the Lord had other plans...