This weekend we got around to visiting The Bridge church in Bixby. It's been on our list ever since the beginning of our search; in fact, in a sense it was on our list even before we decided that we needed to change churches! The pastor was once our worship leader elsewhere, and he just returned to the Tulsa area I think less than a year ago after associate-pastoring a church in another state for something like five or six years or so. They have a monthly worship-only service that we've been invited to several times but were unable to attend for one reason or another, and several weeks ago we actually came out for one of their periodic potluck dinners. We've really been looking forward to this visit, partly because this is a small congregation (I think about 200 or so attending on Sundays) which is a real contrast with the other churches we've been test-driving (mostly in the couple-of-thousand attendees range, I'd say). Plus we have a LOT of friends who go to The Bridge already. So we were excited about coming to a real live service... in fact, I posted on Facebook a few days before, "warning" some of our friends who go there that we would be lurking on Sunday!
Early Sunday morning... about 4am... my 9-year-old boy got scared. You know how kids get scared for no reason? I know it happened to me when I was a kid, and I think it happens to us grownups sometimes too. Well, he just freaked out. A few nights before, he had gotten spooked in the middle of the night when he saw a threatening form in his room; the form turned out to be a t-shirt! He laughed it off pretty quickly that time, but not this time. I don't even know what exactly had set him off, but it was a good hour and a half before he calmed down enough to leave us alone. So we're talking 5:30am, and my wife had set an alarm for 6am to make sure she had plenty of time to get herself and the baby ready and still take the 30-minute drive to where the church is. We passed back out, and didn't wake up again until about 8. Services we've been visiting at Guts start at 11 and they're close (maybe a 5-minute drive); services at The Bridge are at 10, so that means we have to get up about an hour and a half earlier for The Bridge in order to get the same amount of getting-ready time before we have to leave. I woke Cathy up and told her that it was 8:00 so she had time to get ready and we could go to Guts or somewhere else; she surprised me by being pretty adamant that she wanted to go to The Bridge, even though it would be hard to get ready in time! So we went into four-alarm get-ready-for-church mode, and I was actually pretty surprised that we managed to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door almost exactly on time... we arrived at church nor more than five or six minutes before service time. Good thing their child check-in process is fairly simple!
We parked next to a car which turned out to contain a friend of ours from way back, and we chatted briefly on the way in. There were a LOT of familiar faces, most of them people we had gone to church with when Pastor Orlando was our worship leader, so we felt pretty comfortable and extremely welcomed. At The Bridge, the children are actually expected to be in the music part of the worship service right along with the adults, so we had them with us for that part (the baby did well until her big brother started playing peekaboo with her... we're going to have to keep the two of them separated during that part of the service from here on out). After worship the children go into separate classrooms for more age-appropiate Bible lessons, so we took them on back and were in place for the offering and the message.
The message was awesome. In fact, it was particularly relevant for a family looking for a new church home: it was about changing yourself to fit into the will of God for your life. We spent a lot of time listening to Pastor Orlando teaching the Word back when he was Music Director Orlando, and we loved his teaching style even then. In fact, I would encourage you to visit this page on the church's Web site and give him a listen. He has a very unique delivery, and what he's saying is so relevant and immediate. It's really neat stuff.
After the service we asked our son how the lesson was in his class. Apparently instead of kind of telling the kids a Bible story while they sit quietly and listen, in his class things were quite free-form, with discussion and back-and-forth between children and teacher the whole time the teacher was sharing the Bible story. To me, that is SO COOL. I hope that's the way it always is for the children, because that's perfect for Mikey. Honestly, I think most children would pick a very participatory lesson to sitting and watching what was going on, even if what was going on involved them to some extent (a game girls vs. boys with everyone cheering for your own team and everyone wins something, for example), but for Mikey, being able to speak up and put in his two cents will be so good for him. Meanwhile, the baby was having a good time playing and babbling at the nursery teacher... afterward she told me "She was talking the whole time, but I really couldn't understand her!" I told her, "Well, I saw you were watching some VeggieTales, you probably heard a 'Bop' the Tomato a couple of times," and she nodded like she was remembering a few Bops. :)
The Bridge is a very music-rich church. We knew most of the musicians on stage, plus a number of musicians in the congregation, and most churches would wet themselves to have the quality of musicians on their stage as The Bridge had sitting in the congregation (those people do play during the services, but there are so many of them that they rotate). What else would you expect from a church where the pastor was a long-time worship leader in the town next door? And Pastor Orlando and most of the other musicians there are friends of ours and are aware of our musical talents; I doubt we'll have any trouble with this church not making us feel supported in whatever musical conquests we might embark upon. We really want to spend a little bit of time with Pastor Orlando and find out what the whole story is on his commitment to the town of Bixby; it sounds like the choice to locate there was anything but random. It sounds like Bixby was carefully selected as the spot for that church because God had laid the area on Pastor Orlando's heart, and if so, then hands-and-feet, give-someone-a-jacket-when-they're-cold kind of ministry is a logical extension of that. We want to share our desire to be involved with a church committed to that kind of stuff and see how that fits with his vision, but I expect him to be really excited about it.
Before we were even through the door of the church afterward, Cathy was making it clear to me that she thought that The Bridge is "it." The place for us. I was a little bit conflicted because we have SO many friends there... that may sound ridiculous, but if it feels like "home" I want it to feel like that because it's God's "home" for us, not just because we have a couple of buddies there. But I can't deny that it immediately felt like home, and I also can't deny that the idea of trying out the other churches on our list suddenly doesn't interest me any more. So The Bridge is going to be seeing a lot more of us! We think it may be home for good. We haven't 100% ruled out the idea that we're confused and God will straighten us out, but it sure feels good to us right now. With the amount of prayer and thought and seeking God that we've put into this, if we're mixed up, I think He'll make it clear to us and quick.
We're excited about this church! Next week they're moving into a new facility... with that comes lots of exciting stuff. We can't wait!