Monday, October 26, 2009

This post is not about football

Yesterday, I attended a different church. It was a planned visit, not one I would have ever considered, but it was about football. See, my son plays on a team that is sponsored by a church (it's a religious rec league) in our neighborhood. And this past Sunday, the team was supposed to come to their service, in jerseys, to be recognized. We are not a family that eschews full participation, so the boy and I headed to a different church.

This church has almost nothing in common with our church. It's a non-denominational Christian church, nearly entirely African-American in membership, and, well, warm. I'm not saying we at Neshoba are cold, but we could definitely take a lesson in warmth from this church. No sooner had we entered the front door than we were greeted, and hugged, by three people (all strangers, by the way). We were early (as instructed by the coaches) so we had a few minutes to get our bearings. In those few minutes, we were given stickers (it was breast cancer awareness Sunday) and I was given a bracelet. And an order of service. And a monthly newsletter. And a newcomer's gift bag, including a reusable water bottle, peppermints, and some literature about the church.

The service? Was definitely not anything I'd ever experienced, but I must say, I truly enjoyed every moment. The congregation is small (I'd say maybe 60 people were there), but the energy level was infectious. The first half hour of the service was praise music, and the five singers (with microphones and backing track) were excellent, and their performances were quite emotionally moving. Although we were sitting in the second row, I turned around a few times and noticed more than a few people (not just women) wiping their eyes and sometimes outright sobbing. (My eyes did tear up more than once....but that happens at good Hallmark commercials, too, so I'm not a good barometer of emotion.)

The service moved on to a congregational reading from Psalms (this was projected from a Powerpoint presentation for those who didn't bring Bibles) and announcements. More music, and offering (which was collected differently from what I'm accustomed to...instead of the ushers passing the plate, congregants came forward with their envelopes). The pastor (whom I've known as one of my son's coaches) then delivered his message, which was fantastic. His primary scripture was the parable of the good Samaritan, which our Director of Religious Education covered beautifully in our story for all ages a few weeks ago, and he brought it to life, verse by verse. Another member of the congregation read the story from the Bible, and he interrupted (this must have been planned) to interpret to more current characterizations. The effect was strong, and the congregation definitely got where he was going. And yes, he might have gotten an "Amen" from me. Or two. Or three.

The prayer was quite moving. There was a full-on alter call, in which he invited those not yet devoted to Christ to dedicate their lives on the spot. But again, he surprised me, by going on to offer the opportunity for those who had found themselves fallen away to come back. I saw two of my son's teammates raise their hands at that point. Then he asked if anyone was in need of prayer. More hands came up. And those who had raised their hands at any point were then invited up front for prayer.

It was particularly touching to see my son's teammates standing together, hands clasped, with one of their coaches (in his uniform, too) with a hand on each shoulder, praying for them. But I was equally moved watching the pastor's face as he listened to each congregant's need for prayer. His compassion was obvious. His prayers were sincere. He prayed for healing, for peace, for wisdom. I saw relief on the faces of the people for whom he prayed.

Do I think he healed them? No, not literally. Do I think that HE thinks he healed them? No, not literally. This didn't seem to be that kind of church. His prayer (which I totally loved) for the sick was that their journey of healing begin at that moment. He didn't pray for healing. He prayed for a journey.

I just realized that I got ahead of the story. Before the sermon, we did something that I normally find very uncomfortable in church services. The hugging. The pastor explained that this church was a family, and we were going to have an "explosion of love" (and yes, that's how it was listed in the order of service). I got hugged about 20 times, mostly by women, but also by teenagers and men and kids. My son got a lot of compliments about his hair (he's rocking the mohawk these days) and lots of those hand-clasp/hugs that boys do these days from his teammates. But instead of feeling awkward or uncomfortable, I felt loved. I really did. I experienced genuine affection and caring from complete strangers.

There were other moments in the service that were great - the boys on the team being recognized, applauded (a standing ovation, actually), and prayed for - the first-time visitors being welcomed - more music. In all, the service lasted about two hours, but the time went quickly (and would have gone more quickly if I hadn't had chili on the stove for the annual chili cook-off in our neighborhood). And after the service, during the traditional refreshments and social time, we were welcomed even more, engaged in conversation, and made to feel like the congregation hoped we would return.

And there it is. I want to return. But I have my own church, a church I love, a church my kids love. It's the only church home they know.

But I also know that I am frustrated going to a suburban church. I live in the inner city. My concerns are much more in the inner city than in the suburbs. But most of the folks in our church are suburban. They don't face inner city problems or issues. And sometimes I have trouble reconciling these two realities.

My thinking right now is that I'll be an occasional visitor to this other church. Maybe on fifth Sundays. Maybe more often...once a month? Is that too much for an officer of the Board in another church? And I still have this issue of theology. I'm NOT a Christian (at least not with a capital C), and this church is very much Christian (maybe even in all-caps). I'm also not black, but I don't think this posed a problem at the church (and in a follow-up conversation with a neighbor who's been a member there for two years, it's quite the opposite...they would love to be more diverse). But the drive is sure a lot shorter. And I did like all the hugs.

1 comment:

Hot Librarian said...

Hi Kaleigh, as a fellow UU, I really enjoyed reading this. I can relate to your feelings on a lot of the subjects you bring up. Personally, I am trying to get over a fear I have of Christians (I think it's really a prejudice, but isn't prejudice born out of fear?), and your post is a great reminder to me that so many Christians are loving and wonderful people. Currently I steer my kids away from Christian-based activities because they are very young and I don't want them to get confused. Your thoughts make me realize that once they are a little older and can grasp the concept of differing theologies, it's okay to get them involved with activities that might be sponsored by groups whose beliefs aren't necessarily exactly matched to our own. Thank you for this.